It’s always the same
I’m having a nervous breakdown
Drive me insane
When the members of Led Zeppelin penned those lyrics in 1969, they were writing about the angst associated with liking a woman and being unable to express those feelings when the opportunity is presented, but they easily could have been writing about the frustration associated with organizational communication in 2021.
We believe it’s fair to say that we encounter the impact of communication breakdown every day. That may sound like an exaggeration, but here are just a few examples of how we see it:
- Senior leaders who believe that their mid-level managers don’t give them enough information about what’s happening in their departments.
- Mid-level managers who think that their senior leaders don’t give them enough direction about the projects they want them to launch.
- Employees who feel left out of decisions being made about the areas in which they work (e.g., new workflows).
We could go on, but the song remains the same (Zeppelin fans, that reference was for you)—communication breakdown is everywhere, and it’s driving people insane! So, we want to share two situations that we most frequently see communication breakdowns and offer a tip to avoid the lapse.
Talk to People
In coaching, one of our roles is to provide a safe place for leaders to share their frustrations. Sometimes that means listening to a leader vent about peers, supervisors, or direct reports. In other words, it’s part of the job to let our clients talk about people. But it’s also our job to encourage clients to talk to people, which is why we often re-direct venting to planning a conversation.
If you find yourself talking about someone, we encourage you to stop and ask yourself whether you’ve spoken to the person about those same thoughts. If the answer is no, then consider shifting the immediate dialogue to a strategy session about how you can better explain your thoughts and feelings in preparation for a conversation with them.
Deploy Feedback Loops
The technical definition of a feedback loop is a system where the output of a system becomes the input for the next iteration of the system. In organizational communication, that simply means we invite colleagues to share their thoughts and experiences with us and use that information to guide our future activities. Unfortunately, that practice appears to be missing from many organizations as we often hear frustrated employees say, “If they had just asked us before making that change, we could have told them the issues that would create.”
If you find yourself preparing to add/revise a workflow, we encourage you to look around the room and determine whether there’s an end-user present. If the answer is no, then consider tabling the discussion until you can invite a few end users into the process. After you have their input about the change, pilot it for 4 to 6 weeks, and then invite end users back into the room to discuss the results of the pilot and adjust the workflow before launching it organization-wide.
Organizational Reflection: What’s the most common communication breakdown in your organization? What can you do to address the breakdown? If you want some support in thinking through this organizational reflection, reach out to us!