Your business is a body and communication is the blood that carries oxygen through the system making it survive and thrive. There are two types of blood: good clean haemoglobin that allows oxygen to move quickly, and dirty toxic blood that causes illness, disease and eventually death.
Successful people and companies understand just how important effective communication is to the effectiveness of them and their enterprise. They can see where there is poor communication and they remove all the obstacles allowing the clear flow once again. Before we can correct poor communication, we must be capable of recognising and identifying poor communication.
Encourage sharing, input and dialogue
Successful companies all encourage two-way communication. We have two ears and one mouth. Successful communicators listen twice as much. This allows them to fully understand before commenting. Communication flows both ways from a sender to a receiver and back. If it is only going one way, it is not communication – it is instructing. Below is what happens when we instruct without listening properly:
Steven Covey gives the example of an arrogant naval commander, trumped up by his rank, who fails to listen:
Two battleships were at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell.
The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.
The lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then communicated with the ship: “we are on a collision course; advise you change course 20 degrees.”
Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
“I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.”
By now time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “Suggest you change course, I’m a lighthouse.”
We changed course.”
Four Communication Rules
During my career, I developed four communication principles that serve me well:
- The “no surprise” rule. Staff have to bring sensitive and in particular negative news to me as quickly as possible so we could deal with it. I didn’t want a matter to fester and worsen simply because staff were concerned about brining me “bad” news. A mini-crisis is easier to deal with than a full-blown catastrophe.
- The “don’t kill the messenger” rule. When a staff member brought negative feedback or even personal criticism to my attention, I thanked them. I always believe that knowledge is strength irrespective of whether it is good or bad. If you kill the messenger who brings bad news, you will eventually have a company full of staff who know what’s going on whilst you do not. You become the Emperor with no clothes and you encourage “group-think”, a dangerous condition where everyone agrees to avoid conflict. Being out of touch is never a good position for a manager. And I believe criticism is an opportunity to grow and improve. Positive feedback reinforces the fact that we are progressing according to our goals. Negative feedback is a chance to develop character and skills.
- The “are you part of the problem or part of the solution” rule. If a staff member approached me with a problem, they needed to have given it some thought and come to an informed opinion as to how it might be resolved. In this way we empower staff to become active problem solvers. Staff learn to resolve problems at the first opportunity and lowest possible level, rather than simply escalating everything up me. Succesful organisations build excellence into their DNA by recognising it and sorting out deviances form it. Excellence can’t only reside in the corner office.
- The “facts are more important than opinions” rule. Give me the facts no matter how miserable. We can work with the truth; we cannot work with opinions. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion: a fact is “the game of rugby originated at Rugby College in England”, an opinion is, “I prefer rugby to soccer”.
Jim Collins explains the Stockdale Paradox the need to balance realism with optimism. Stockdale commented, “you must address the harsh brutal reality without giving up hope.