Los Angeles Business Journal – Entrepreneur’s Notebook, Contributed By EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]H[/dropcaps]ave you ever had a miscommunication with your employees or co-workers that resulted in costly errors? This situation is not uncommon to most business people, but there are definite communication techniques that can save companies money and increase their bottom-line returns.
One example of ineffective communication involves a production manager for a furniture manufacturing firm, we’ll call him Joe, who oversees about 50 employees who work in teams of five to 10 in manufacturing cells. His primary responsibilities are meeting production quotas and interacting with the customer-service and shipping departments.
The general manager became aware that these departments were encountering difficulties meeting quota and shipping schedules because of production problems in Joe’s department. The manager requested that we work with Joe to identify why these problems were taking place.
We found that Joe’s communication style was harsh and vague. His staff focused on his poor communication rather than the task at hand. They would take his instructions “as is” and work on the assignment with limited information instead of asking questions to clarify the process. The results were lower production, increased safety violations and poor workmanship.
Joe had a hard time acknowledging the communication problems that management was pointing out to him. In order to clarify the problem, we had Joe take the 16PF personality assessment inventory, which identifies not only areas for an individual to improve upon, but strengths and personality traits. We have found this assessment to be a valuable tool in assisting employees [to] gain insight about themselves. When Joe reviewed the profile results, he discovered the same problems that the management team had identified, and became more open to exploring ways to resolve them.
One of the first points we worked on with Joe was how to listen effectively to others. A primary cause for poor communication is poor listening skills, in which the listener fails to take in all the available information and instead relies on his or her own assumptions. Joe found that by using active listening, in which one paraphrases what he or she thinks the other person is saying, he was able to avoid this kind of miscommunication with his teams.
We encouraged Joe to avoid interrupting others and to ask more questions to ensure better understanding. Effective listening ensures that both the listener and the speaker end up on the same page.
Another cause for ineffective communication is poor speaking skills, so that the speaker provides vague and incomplete information to the listener. We suggested that Joe use “I” statements when speaking to his teams. By using “I” statements, Joe was able to take responsibility for his comments while clarifying his thoughts.
An example of an “I” statement is, “I feel under a great deal of pressure when you give the client a due date without checking with me first, because there may be some difficulties meeting that deadline.”
“I” statements are composed of three elements: The “I” helps the speaker maintain the responsibility for his or her feelings or observations; the “when” gives a specific example for the other person; and the “because” provides the reason why the speaker is bothered by the situation. “I” statements help the speaker to avoid being vague and accusatory with others.
Other people can interpret poor communication as a lack of respect and empathy. Joe discovered that he was unintentionally showing disrespect to his staff through his harsh communication. He needed to have more respect for his staff’s feelings and their points of view, even when he didn’t agree with them.
The key to having successful communication is to have empathy—to try to understand why someone is doing what he or she is doing and feeling, what he or she is feeling. Effective communication takes a great deal of patience. We suggested that Joe meet with his staff to discuss any problems and find some solutions. After they had a full discussion, he started a brainstorming session to facilitate better teamwork, not only in his own department, but also [about] how to work with other departments more effectively.
One idea was to have the customer-service department take a tour of the plant to better understand the manufacturing process. This created a sense of common purpose, a shared goal that all the people in his department desired and could agree upon, which encouraged teamwork rather than alienation. Joe then sat down with the customer-service staff to look at the problems that were occurring between his department and theirs.
The general manager and employees were very pleased by the positive results from Joe’s communication training. Customers are receiving their orders on time, accidents have decreased, workmanship has improved, production returns have decreased, and incentive bonuses were awarded to the plant.
Proficient communication is not by any means the easiest thing to do. It takes practice, patience and respect, yet the benefits can be immense.
Entrepreneur’s Notebook is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California.
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Dana Borowka, MA, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC and his organization constantly remain focused on their mission statement – “To bring effective insight to your organization”. They do this through the use of in-depth work style assessments to raise the hiring bar so companies select the right people to reduce hiring and management errors. They also have a full service consulting division that provides domestic and international interpersonal coaching, executive onboarding, leadership training, global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training, operational productivity improvement, 360s and employee surveys as well as a variety of workshops. Dana has over 25 years of business consulting experience and is a nationally renowned speaker, radio and TV personality on many topics. He provides workshops on hiring, managing for the future, and techniques to improve interpersonal communications that have a proven ROI. He is the co-author of the books, “Cracking the Personality Code” and “Cracking the Business Code”. To order the books, please visit www.lighthouseconsulting.com.
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Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, 360s, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. Other areas of expertise: Executive on boarding for success, leadership training for the 21st century, exploring global options for expanding your business, sales and customer service training and operational productivity improvement.