There's No Communication Around Here!
by Dianna Booher

A friend of mine told me about coming home from work one day and finding her elementary-age daughter sitting outside on the patio. She was wrapped up in a big sweater with a blanket around her legs, her head buried in a library book. The mother stuck her head out the back door and called out, "Honey, what are you doing, sitting outside reading when it's so cold?" The little girl looked up. "Well, my teacher told us that if we wanted to be good students we should do a lot of outside reading."

Miscommunication has been the story all too often. Between educators and students. Between management and employees. Between Marketing and Accounting. Between Service and Sales. Between politicians and constituents. We're just not communicating all that well.

The term "communication" encompasses an ever-widening range of interactions. Leaders communicating visions to their staff. Executives communicating to the lower-level employees. Organizations communicating to their customers and the public. Press conferences and press releases. Employee newsletters and catalogs. Direct mail.
Telephone. Satellite. Employee suggestions systems. Meetings. Formal performance appraisals. On-the-job feedback from managers. Attitude surveys. Speeches and conference room briefings. Letters and memos. Evaluation forms. All of the above. 

Amid papers whirling all around, phones ringing off their hooks, and computers on every desk, frequently is heard the comment, often laced with frustration or anger, "There's just no communication around here!" According to George Bernard Shaw: "The problem with communication is the illusion that it is complete." Yet, clear, effective communication of directives and ideas is one of the most valuable skills a leader can possess. 

Communication is not the same as information. Survey after survey indicates that executives think their goals and objectives have been communicated to all those who need to know. But a Louis Harris study underscores that "less than third of employees say management provides clear goals and directions." Clearly, there's a large gap between perception and reality.

Some people blame poor communication on individuals. They say managers shirk their responsibility-particularly when it comes to delivering bad news about performance, project failures, finances, or downsizings. Others insist that individuals can't write, read, listen, or present ideas effectively. Yes, good communication is a personal
responsibility. But individuals don't deserve all the blame. Some blame poor communication on the organization as a whole. A culture of distrust, no formal channels to hear from the front-line, lip service from leaders, kill-the-messenger tactics-all of these can be the basis of poor communication. Whoever or whatever deserves the blame in
your organization, effective communication is too important to be left to chance. 

Managing communication requires strategy. We have the technology to communicate, but technology is not a strategy in and of itself. In fact, the more elaborate our technology for communication, it seems, the less effectively we communicate. Why is that?  Technology's biggest problem is impersonality. And that drawback is a major one-because we're communicating with people, not electronic blips or buildings. And people have feelings, perceptions, and wills. That's why it's necessary to exercise control. Technology can't manage how your words affect people. That's the why behind developing your strategy of effective communication-personal strategy and corporate strategy. 

Managers can't manage if they can't communicate. Leaders can't lead if they can't communicate. 

Managers and executives have a huge role in this communication strategy as internal or external consultants. They define business needs and establish a working partnerships. They help clarify expectations and goals and plans of action. They synthesize information from multiple sources. They sell recommendations. Then they lead change. They stand center stage in the communication arena in our organizations.

Chester Burger, writing in Survival in the Executive Jungle, says, "An executive can't ignore communications any more than a driver can forget to oil his engine. The car will run briefly without outward signs of damage until suddenly overheated parts burn out the engine." The same is true of your executive communications. Neglect them, and you'll have damaging consequences.


Author/speaker Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications training firm. Her programs include communication (writing, oral presentations, interpersonal, customer service communications, gender, listening, meetings, conflict) and life balance/productivity. She has published 40 books, including E-Writing: 21st-Century Tools for Effective Communication (Pocket Books, February 2001), Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill), and The Esther Effect (Nelson-Word). Several have been major Book Club selections.
Call 817.868.1200; and visit www.booher.com.

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