A new house is being built across the street. When the wall framing was being installed, the radio was blaring all day – we can discuss music choice another time – and all the while the music was at top volume I could hear the men yelling out, “What?”, “What?”, “Wattcha say?”

The next phase was handled very differently. They set about putting the roof trusses on so there wasn’t any music, no talking (at least not loudly that I could hear); hard hats were donned; they were using a crane and a whistle.

As the build went from ground to roof the rules for communication also shifted. While there may be some areas for improvement at both levels, it’s a clear example of how the different situations we find ourselves in can influence the way we communicate. The same men are doing the work but they have adjusted to the situation. 

In reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits for my book club, he goes into detail about when a habit becomes automatic you become less sensitive to feedback, we can fall into mindless repetition. And this can lead to letting mistakes slide … “When you can do it “good enough” on autopilot, you stop thinking about how to do it better.”

When it comes to communicating, when we become comfortable with the situation, environment and the people around us, we can easily slip into autopilot. We say things that only the inner-group understand, we have inside jokes, we have code which makes working and productivity easier most of the time. The lack of music and use of the whistle while craning the roof trusses in place is their code to make the work effective, safe and productive.

Sure we may have some slip ups here and there: say the wrong thing at the wrong time; say something with a tone that might sting; or blare the music so loud you can’t hear your workmates. That’s where reflection and review become critical. Imagine if the music was blaring while the crane driver and the workers on the ground were also trying to lift the trusses into the right place?

Music and whistles and yelling all competing for attention!

It’s seems so obvious to you and me that we’d pick the right communication (including the rules around it, like no music) for the right situation. The question is however what part of your communication has become automatic and has that had an impact on your’s or your team’s productivity. In a constantly changing world, strategy change, employees come and go, projects, programs and opportunities come and go, does your communication adapt? Is it time to reflect and review? As the quote goes: 

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

Nobel Prize Winner for Literature

Communication … we all do it and it’s fantastic when we are all on the same page. Yet it can be tricky when we have changes to any of the variables at play, such as, changes in work processes, changes in employees, changes in culture (organisational or geographical). Communication is critical. Netflix, in their Explained series has even dedicated a full episode to explaining the exclamation mark! (See what I did there?)

The link between quality communication and productivity is straightforward: the better the communication the less risk for errors, waste and cost, etc. The following communication coaching questions might help prompt review and reflection:

1.  Before heading into your next meeting, what will you do to ensure you know who your audience is, what message they are expecting to hear from you, and why?

2.  How would your most junior direct report (or the newest employee you work with), describe your communication style? [This is not about what you’d like them to say or think but what your communication looks like from their perspective.} What can you do to make your communication even better? 

3.  What information does your boss [colleagues/direct reports/new starts] want and need from you, and in what format? What can you do to ensure you communicate in a way they can receive and understand your information? 

4.  When meeting with your peers what codes, in-jokes, slang, acronyms, etc, do you use? Which of these help, and which could be hindering effective communication and would be best retired? 

5.  Finish this sentence: When I am listening I will be present and suspend judgement so that… 

If, let’s take question 2 for example, you are not sure how others would describe your communciation style, ask a trusted colleague. Just don’t shoot the messenger if the response stings. This is feedback and you have a choice to use that information to review the way you communicate. These questions are intended help you review and reflect the way you communicate and you can also share these questions with your team.

I’d love to know your thoughts… 

Image Source for George Bernard Shaw: biography.com 

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