Putting your ideas across and trying to understand the ideas of others, whether they are spoken or written, probably make up at least 50 percent of most people's working day.
Where communications are effective, there are few, if any, misunderstandings, grievances, errors, personality conflicts, emotional upsets and so on. In this sense, getting your ideas across is the essence of good personal relations.
The truth is, there is virtually no case where communications are so good that there is no room for improvement. And the improvement can only be made on the level of individual performance.
How do you rate as a communicator? These questions should help you find out.
- Do you frequently have to explain your letters with follow-up correspondence or telephone calls?
- Do you favor short, direct words over multi syllabic ones . . . or do you erroneously believe that your position dictates the use of gobbledygook?
- Are you dissatisfied with your correspondence until it says precisely what you want it to say?
- Do you state your ideas within a familiar context? (Compare and contrast the new with what your reader already knows and he'll grasp it more quickly.)
- Do you present your ideas and the facts to back them up in a logical sequence?
- Do you recognize that listening is an active, not passive, communication skill?
- Do you watch speakers for non-verbal clues to their meanings?
- Before answering a speaker, are you usually certain that you have taken in his point of view?
- When giving instructions, do you frequently assume more knowledge on the part of your employee than he or she actually possesses?
- Do you break complicated procedures down to more easily understood sub-steps?
- Do you speak clearly, without slurring or mispronouncing words?
- Do you talk too fast or too slowly for comprehension?
Overcoming Status Quo Thinking
Change—in methods, policies, oppor-tunities—comes so fast these days that it's a rare person indeed who is doing the same work in the same way as he was a few short years ago.
Many employees find the transition from old to new an uncomfortable experience. Some merely grumble; others may sulk, do poor work, even become chronically absent from the job in protest.
As a manager, one of your responsibilities is frequently to persuade your people to stop doing one thing and to begin doing another. But how, precisely, can you do this? Some suggestions:
- Make your proposals timely. Ask yourself: Is the proposal fully developed? Are my people completely prepared for it? Can I act on it now, even if they do ac-cept it? If adopted, will the proposal conflict with any other projects already under way? If the answer to these questions is yes, your proposal is probably timely.
- Break the news gradually. Take your time and lead the listener to your point in easy stages. If you expect to get new or complicated concepts across to employees quickly, you're doomed to disappointment. This is the main reason why crisis communications rarely succeed and continuous communication is so important. You must get your ideas across bit by bit. Don't spring them on an employee without introduction or conditioning. One good approach is to ask questions. For example, if you want to win support for new equipment, you might ask, “How is the old machine holding up? How much downtime did we have on it last month? Would you recommend putting in a new model? How would you like to operate it?”
- Don't exaggerate the issue. If you are contemplating putting in a new machine, don't give the impression that you are toying with the idea of automating the entire floor. Explain what you have in mind in clear, simple language and make sure that everyone hears it from you. Things have a way of getting exaggerated in retelling.
- Tell the whole story. Since the details will come out eventually, let them come from you. That includes any unpleasant information that may be involved in the change.
- Accent the positive. No matter what the change portends, there must be a good side to it. Play it up.
- Don't “oversell.” It's only human to build up the benefits of something new, but don't go overboard. People have uncanny memories for promises made or ad-vantages cited. If things don't live up to your predictions, you may never hear the end of it.
- Invite comments. There will be questions, comments, and suspicions. Let them come out; otherwise, the rumor mill will grind the facts into a fine powder and reconstruct something entirely different from what you have in mind. It may take twice as long to scotch a rumor, once it's taken wing, than to nip it in the bud while you can.
What A Good Report Should Contain
Clearly written and properly angled, a business report can be an unparalleled vehicle of communication within a company.
It can boil a problem down to essentials, offer recommendations, cite the pros and cons of various solutions. It may distill the thinking of the writer and save precious time for the reader. Sometimes, when it is the result of group investigation and thinking, it even offers a convenient summary of departmental effort.
But many reports miss the mark entirely. They're disorganized, wordy, difficult to understand. Rather than enlightening, they cast an additional layer of mystery over the subject.
These failings could be largely avoided if the report writer knew what the reader was looking for.
What does management seek in the reports that cross its desk? Primarily the answers to these questions:
- What is the report about and who wrote it?
- What does it contribute?
- What are its conclusions and recommendations?
- What are the implications for the company?
To get this information, most managers read the summary or abstracts of a report and the sections titled, “Introduction,” “Background,” and “Conclusions and Recommendations.” Very few read the body or appendix of a report. When they do, it is usually because they are skeptical of the conclusion drawn. Or they are particularly interested in the subject, deeply involved in the problem or feel that the urgency of the problem demands full reading. In one survey, engineers and scientists at the research laboratory of a large company were asked what they looked for in a report. This is how they ranked their informational needs:
|Material Rated||Most Often|
Scale Looked for
|Conclusions and recommendations|
Statement of problem
This is not to say that detailed data should be omitted from a report. It has to be included for those who may need it, but obviously it should not be made the focal point of the report. You should emphasize the larger and more important aspects of the work to meet the informational needs of the bulk of readers.