Many times when there is a misunderstanding, communication is to blame. It happens very often that people don’t listen to understand but to reply. Technology adds more things to the mix to create communication problems.
Last week during a meeting, a fellow manager explained how a supervisor following his instructions end up leading his team to overproduced an item that we produce very rarely. Then he added that maybe his instructions were not clear enough, perhaps he misunderstood the conversation during the meeting we discussed the situation.
The meeting my peer was talking about is held on a weekly basis with the participation of 10-12 people. Each of them represents a very specific portion of our operations. Some, turn their attention to their mobile devices as soon as they talk. While doing this, they can miss important pieces of information that can be related to the subject they brought to the table. They use the phone either to send instructions to their direct reports, either by email or text or just to read emails.
Personally, I hate emails and text messages. Not all of them, but those that interrupt the effective communication of critical instructions. Sometimes an email is not enough to communicate critical instructions, much less a text message. I have seen many times that people use emails or texts as their only way to “communicate” instructions. The follow-up conversation is very important to ensure appropriate execution, it helps to clarify doubts or provide additional information. Not all people are good following written instructions, for some, it is better to talk, at least by phone.
Although there are times when there is no other way but to send emails when possible talking face to face should be the preferred way of communication. Face to face is not a warranty of effective communication either, but at least you can ask questions and receive answer faster. Also with the chance to see people’s reaction, you can listen to their words and see their body language.
The approach to fix communication problems is no different to the one used to fix any problem, go back to the basics. Communication is always better when we use the basic principles: deliver a complete and clear message, be concise, use facts to support the message, use examples if possible. Another basic thing, real communication is two ways, it has a sender and a receiver; allow the receiver to send back to you his/her ideas, concerns or questions. Doing the basics is not enough, follow-up is critical; circle back to those you reach out and make sure the execution of the instruction is as planned.