I was engaged to work for a small business, with 30 team members, to improve communication within the business. Everyone knew there was a toxic culture in the workplace. People weren’t getting along and engagement levels were low. The leaders believed this had nothing to do with the leadership, but rather people not liking the direction the business was heading in or the fact they were under pressure to perform.
When I start a contract like this I always like to immerse myself for a period of time and observe what is going on through fresh eyes. I also sit down individually with each team member and ask for feedback on how they are experiencing the business.
Throughout this exercise, I learned that the team genuinely wanted things to improve. My curiosity got the better of me during a chat I was having with one team member and I asked him why he hadn’t raised how he was feeling with the leadership team and why was so willing to share his frustrations and thoughts with me. He responded: ‘Because you asked and because you care. The leaders simply like to tell us what we’re not doing and never ask if there is an issue.’
Over a short period of time when immersed in the business, I noticed a lack of communication from the top down or communication done very poorly, like email upon email from the company’s leaders. They were so busy working ‘in’ the business and focused on winning new business, that the most effective way for them to communicate was to email or text their team updates, responses to queries or questions or even provide feedback. Even when they were in the office! Rather than go and speak with each team member, who sat a mere 10-meters away, they would email them. What do you think about that approach?
Thanks to technological advancements we have many convenient ways to communicate. It’s easier to text rather than call, email rather than converse and post photos rather than share stories. We have an insatiable appetite for information. Look around you on the train, tram, bus or even at people walking along the street and you’ll see them buried in their smartphones texting, Facebooking, emailing or Instagraming.
The biggest issue with communicating this way is 93% of what makes up effective communication is missing. All you have is words.
Professor of psychology Albert Mehrabian determined that effective communication is based on three elements:
- the words you use
- your tone
- your physiology (i.e. body language).
According to Mehrabian, these elements account differently for our liking of the person who puts forward a message:
- your physiology (body language) accounts for 55% of ‘liking’
- your tone accounts for 38%
- the words you use account for only 7%.
So a text message or email on its own will only be about 7% effective. The reaction to the message will depend on how it is perceived by the person receiving it. This is where leaders can get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
Leaders set the organisation’s culture. If you choose to communicate via email or text, how do you think the rest of your team will communicate? Emails and texts make communication disjointed and lack meaning and context.
Take a step back and assess what culture you want to cultivate to support your team then implement steps to get there by engaging your team and asking for their ideas. Limiting the amount of virtual communication and implementing the rule of communicating in person when in the office is a great starting point. In this case, the culture improved dramatically. The leaders of the organisation noticed the relationships with them team improved, and also how much time it saved them in the process.
This sounds so simple, but in our busy technological world, it’s a very easy trap to fall into. Even though there will be an ever-evolving chain of social platforms that we can communicate from, honing the skill we are born with and verbally communicating will assist us to stay relevant. A relevant leader needs a strong voice not only to lead and inspire conversation but to ask questions, rather than assuming.