Irrespective of the fact whether it is a small business or a large scale business, communication plays the dominant role. Communication is neither transmission of message nor message itself. It is the mutual exchange of understanding of the content by the receiver.
Communication needs to be effective in businesses. It permeates all aspects of our personal and professional lives. It is the key to have a positive interaction and to build and maintain favourable relationships. The ability to communicate and to have it understood is vital in today’s world. Thus, we can say that effective communication is a building block of successful organisations. We can also say that communication is the lifeblood of an organisation.
Communication is essence of management
Business communication involves a constant flow of information. Giving and receiving feedback on performance is an integral part of business communication. Most of the organisations today are very complex and large. It involves a number of people and various levels of hierarchies in the organisational structure. The greater the number of levels, the more difficult the job of managing the organisation, if you do not have a proper communication channel.
The basic functions of management (planning, organising, staffing, directing and progress control and measure) cannot be performed well without effective communication.
Communication serves as a foundation for planning. How? Well, planning requires the inputs from several involved in the planning session. This way, we are able to see different shades of opinion and possible consequences. The more the possibilities and dangers are brought to the planning table, the better the final plan will become.
Organising also requires effective communication with others about their job task. Why? Well, in organising, we know that different tasks have to be allocated to different people and they are to be held accountable. The clearer the communication, the better the people will understand the tasks and responsibilities allocated to them.
Similarly, leaders and managers must communicate effectively with their subordinates so as to achieve the team goals. Controlling processes for results delivery is not possible without written, visual and oral communication. Having the right combination of any two or all three of the three media of communication can also be considered.
Oral communication can be formal or informal. Generally business communication is a formal means of communication, such as meetings, interviews, group discussion, speeches, etc. An example of informal business communication would be the grapevine.
Written means of business communication includes agenda, reports, manuals, etc.
There should be effective communication between superiors and subordinates in an organisation, between organisation and society at large (for example between management and trade unions). It is essential for the success, growth and sustainability of an organisation. All the essential information must be communicated to the managers, who in turn must communicate the plans so as to implement them.
It can involve one-on-one conversation or individuals interacting with many people within a society. It helps us understand how and why people behave and communicate in different ways.
Overall, interpersonal communication can be conducted using both direct and indirect mediums of communication such as face-to-face interaction, as well as computer-mediated-communication.
Successful interpersonal communication assumes that both the message senders and the message receivers will interpret and understand the messages being sent on a level of understood meanings and implications.
Working to improve interdepartmental communication is an ongoing task for every company. Interdepartmental communication is the process through which various departments send and receive messages between themselves.
For the communication to be effective, one department must send a clear and comprehensive message to another department and the message must be clearly and completely understood. If it’s not, there will be problems. Ineffective communication can lead to confusion, lack of morale and frustration among employees and departments.
Effective interdepartmental communication ensures that all departments are on the same page as work situations change. One department may make a change that affects another department. If the first department doesn’t communicate those changes to the other department, there can be confusion, frustration and anger.
Without effective interdepartmental communication, a company can end up in chaos, with a lack of motivation among employees and an absence of trust and respect between departments.
Benefits of interdepartmental communication
Effective interdepartmental communication creates a vibrant and trusting corporate culture. Employees feel empowered and able to rely on the decisions of other departments. Organisational leaders trust other departmental leaders and the customer has faith in the company’s word and reputation.
Effective interdepartmental communication makes it possible for people to stay informed, make changes when and where they’re necessary, and feel comfortable confronting issues when they arise between departments. There’s no resentment or unwillingness to deal with members of other departments.
Immediate feedback can be obtained and misunderstandings if any can be avoided. Sometimes a feedback could be a non-verbal smiles, sighs, etc. Sometimes it is oral, as when you react to a colleague’s ideas with questions or comments. Feedback can also be written, such as replying to an e-mail, etc.
Feedback is the receivers’ response; it enables the management to evaluate the effectiveness of the messages. It is the management that can create an environment that encourages feedback.
For example, after explaining the job to the subordinates, she or he must ask them whether they have understood it or not. She or he should ask questions like, “Are you clear?”; “Do you have any doubts?” etc. At the same time she or he must allow subordinates to express their views as well.
Communication promotes motivation by informing and clarifying the employees about the task to be done and the manner in which they are performing the task.
Communication also plays a crucial role in altering individual’s attitudes, i.e., a well-informed individual will have a better attitude than a less-informed individual. Organisational magazines, journals, meetings and various other forms of oral and written communication help in moulding employee’s attitudes.
Communication also helps in socialising. In today’s life the only presence of another individual fosters communication. It is also said that one cannot survive without communication.
Common communication barriers
Communication is fruitful if and only if the messages sent by the sender are interpreted with same meaning by the receiver. If any kind of disturbance blocks any step of communication, the message will be destroyed. These barriers interrupt the flow of communication from the sender to the receiver, thus making communication ineffective. Due to such disturbances, managers in an organisation face severe problems.
Language differences: Perception is generally how each individual interprets the world around him/her. But any message which is against their values is not accepted.
Information overload: Managers are surrounded with a pool of information. It is essential to control this information flow, otherwise there is a tendency of misinterpreting or forgetting if not overlooked the information. As a result communication is less effective.
Lack of concentration: At times we don’t listen but only hear, especially when the same things are mentioned over and over again. Thus, repetitive messages should be ignored for effective communication.
Time pressures: Often in organisation the targets have to be achieved within a specified time period, the failure of which has adverse consequences. In a haste to meet deadlines, the formal channels of communication are shortened, or messages are partially given, i.e., not completely transferred. Thus sufficient time should be given for effective communication.
Distraction/noise: Communication is also affected a lot by noise to distractions. Physical distractions are also there such as poor lightning, uncomfortable sitting and unhygienic room, which also affect communication in a meeting.
Complexity in organisational structure: The greater the hierarchy in an organisation, the more chances of communication getting destroyed.
Bad attitude: This is when certain people don’t want to understand or who would want to ‘get by’ with minimum contribution and effort. Attitude acts as a barrier to decoding and interpreting a message, whether oral or written. If positive minded, the message will be absorbed in the manner it was intended by the sender. If negative minded, the receiver will give his/her own interpretation and will look for flaws, lapses, etc., so as to tender excuses or reasons as to why the whole task is not accomplished.
A good example for ‘attitude’ can be taken from the case of pilots and their relationship with the runway when they land. Airplane pilots often use “attitude” to describe their horizontal relationship with the runway when they land. If their attitude isn’t aligned properly, the plane will make contact with the ground at the wrong angle and it will cause them to crash.
Attitude is perhaps the single most important factor that CEOs and HR heads must focus upon in order to create a positive mindset across the organisation. It is unbelievable what can be achieved by a team where their attitudes are positive and where they are aligned to each other and to the team purpose.
Overcoming communication barriers
- The organisation should ensure that it is recruiting the right individuals for the job. It’s the responsibility of the interviewer to ensure that the interviewee has command over the written and spoken language.
- Use of simple and clear words should be emphasised. Use of ambiguous words and jargon should be avoided.
- There should be a proper induction programme so that the policies of the company are clear to all the employees. There should be proper trainings conducted for required employees (for example, voice and accent training).
- If it is noise that acts as a main communication barrier which must be overcome, it is essential to identify the source of noise and then eliminate that source.
- Listen attentively and carefully. There is a difference between ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’.
- During communication one should make effective use of body language. He/she should not show their emotions while communication as the receiver might misinterpret the message being delivered.
- The organisational structure should not be complex. The number of hierarchical levels should be optimum.
- The management should not overload subordinates with the work. They should spend quality time with their subordinates and should listen to their problems and feedbacks actively.
- Give constructive feedback.
(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)