Avoiding Failures in Communication

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

How Effective are Your Communication Systems?

If I had to pick one thing to teach people about communication, I think I would have to select the concept of communication style. When I first came across the concept of neurolinguistic programming 15 years ago, it was presented more as a tool for manipulating others. As I learned more about it, and thought about its implications in our organizations, I realized that the way it was being sold was not the only way it could be used.

In short, people have preferences in terms of how they send and receive information. The majority of the population is visual – they like to see pictures and use pictures to describe their message. The auditory communication medium comes in a close second. Kinesthetic communicators however tend to make up only 10-15% of the population. On the front lines of our workplaces however, we tend to have many more people who communicate by doing or touching.

In order to succeed in our formal education system, you have to have visual and auditory communication preferences. If you don’t, you might do well in shop, art class, or gym, but you will struggle in a lecture-based classroom. In our culture, the visual and auditory people become managers, and the kinesthetic people work on the front lines. The foundation is thus laid for significant communication failures.

Why Do Our Communication Systems Fail?

We tend to teach others as we have been taught. We try to send our messages to others in the styles we personally tend to prefer, which is usually visual and auditory. If a high percentage of our hourly workforce in particular is kinesthetic however, they may not be ‘listening’ to our messages.

Emotion further complicates the communication issue. If we send a message that is perceived as being negative, our listeners shut down. Their brains won’t allow that type of stuff into their memory banks. Failing to appreciate diversity also triggers a negative, message altering reaction. To make matters worse, we all perceive things differently in general, so the words mean different things to different people.

You can’t construct and deliver a perfect message, but you can take steps to increase the odds of your message getting through. What types of messages do you send? Are your messages getting through?

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Twenty years ago, we still had to rely primarily on bulletin board postings, flyers in mailboxes, break room gossip, and face-to-face meetings to send and receive messages in our organizations. With the advent of the internet, intranets, e-mail, and social media, that all changed. Now, we seem to swinging the communication pendulum in the extreme opposite direction. If you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, you might not have much of a voice or be very well-informed.

It is true that texts, social media, and e-mail provide a much easier means of sending and receiving messages. This is especially true when a large group of people are involved. I think we have learned to hide behind our typed messages however. When we are only commenting to a screen, we can be bolder, express different emotions, and even say things that we might not have said in person.

This shift will correct itself in time. I look forward to the time when it does. A company intranet offers a lot of promise in terms of reaching our people and letting them reach back. Some companies have recognized this already. They provide each employee with an e-mail address and send a majority of their information out via this medium. Some are going as far as to survey their people regularly as well by using pop-ups that appear when each employee logs in each day. How are you using today’s technology to communicate?

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If you are interested in the communication system best practices that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com.

What are Your Communication Costs?

I look at communication costs from two perspectives. First, what does it cost to deliver key communication to your people? Second, how much money is wasted in attempting to communicate to people in your organization? The first cost total is much easier to come up with then the second one is. In the past, non-labor communication costs were paper, travel, and phone line-based. Currently, we are using much less paper (unless you are one of those people who still print out each of their e-mails) and travel, and much more wireless communication.

The labor costs could be considered to be any time we spend with other people or we spend reading or writing messages. When you look at it from that perspective, communication costs represent a high percentage of the cost in most products and services. Needless to say, communication, and the ability to do it well, is very important. That’s where the waste perspective comes in.

One of the more common ‘areas of improvement’ that you will find at the top of the list on most attitude surveys is ‘we need better and more communication.’ Have you heard that sentiment expressed in your organization? If that area of improvement heads many such lists, then there must be some waste lurking behind those concerns. Why don’t we communicate well?

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Where are Our Communication Waste Streams?

To look at communication cost and waste further, let’s refer back to the pie chart that most of us have seen regarding how messages are really communicated. The percentages go something like this – 7% of the message comes from the words we say. Around 35% of the message is communicated by our voice tone and its inflections. The remaining 58% of the message is conveyed by our physiology. What degree of potential message interpretation errors exist given these percentages? How many millions of body language books have been sold?

To make matters worse, communication is a two way street. There is both a sender and a receiver involved, and both can misunderstand or mistranslate a message. Our workplaces are getting more diverse, increasing the potential for diversity-based communication waste. Different cultures see (and hear and read) things differently. I see this trend continuing in the current direction.

I may not be able to put a dollar value on communication costs, but I can say with a lot of confidence that there is a lot of waste in our communication systems. If words only convey 7% or our message and we are using e-mail more and more (which is a words only medium), we are creating more and more waste by the minute!

There is a way out. We can improve our communication systems. Event time can be used more wisely. We can better manage the different communication avenues that we use. Most importantly, we must each learn to appreciate the perceptual differences that we each have, and structure our messages accordingly.

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Would You Like Help Improving Your Communication Systems?

For more than 35  years, I have helped people improve their communication systems in many different companies and in a variety of business arenas. I have also discovered value added, simple ways to help improve how we send and receive messages in our organizations. Relying on one way, infrequent, and often negative communication approaches is the primary power restrictor for this power system. Redesigning your information sharing processes helps you better resolve such issues on a daily basis. Done properly, these changes will significantly reduce the communication costs you are currently investing.

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If you are interested in the system improvement ideas that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com. Better yet, work further with me to help you improve your communication systems. I can show you how to design great information sharing events, collect better input from your people, and keep them better informed through my interactive communication system improvement workshop.

If you don’t want to go after the big system, consider working with me to help you install an effective event management process. This process will help you get the most out of the variety of meetings and training events that you spend a lot of money to have. How much meeting and training waste exists in your organization?

Keep improving! — Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems



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