George Bernard Shaw best summed up the problems that lead to communication breakdowns. The single biggest problem in communication, he said, is the illusion that it has taken place. And therein lies the problem. Most companies think they’re communicating well until they run into a crisis, often exacerbated by poor communication in the organisation.

Truth be told, most big companies are rife with communication breakdowns. When you’re that size, it comes with the territory. When you’re that size, there are more cracks for the communication channels to seep into. Like for example the procurement manager who gets his team to look at supply issues while ignoring what might be valuable information from the sales team who know exactly what customers are saying.

Walk into any large company and you’ll find it. There are rumour mills, usually started inadvertently by managers who can’t communicate properly and fail to pass n accurate information. Or the managers who fail to listen and pick up cues about what’s going on around them. Or the people who seem to be in their own little world, oblivious to all the changes and movement going on in the workplace. Think of the work colleagues who fail to share information or get defensive under pressure.

Any of this sound familiar? It’s more common than you think, I’ve seen it everywhere.

So how to deal with it?

Usually, it comes down to three simple strategies.

Make sure everyone is on the same page: This sounds simple but it’s amazing to see how often it doesn’t happen. Breakdowns often occur when people make false assumptions about what the other person is supposed to be doing. This needs to be cleared well in advance of any conversation, either face to face, over the phone or by email. In this day and age of hyper-connectivity, there should be no excuse for people not being on the same page. It’s the only to proceed without being stymied by a communication breakdown.

Become an active listener: Pretty simple really. Put away the smartphone, suspend judgement, reflect on what’s being said and ask open-ended questions to bring people out and get them to expand their ideas. Then restate their ideas to show you’ve been listening. You’re not agreeing or disagreeing, you’re just closing the loop and turning it into a real conversation. Just imagine that the person you’re talking to is creating mosaic tiles of information. Thank of that: no single tile will give you the whole picture and you’re unlikely to get every single tile. But by assembling them with strategic listening, you get a good idea of what the picture might be. No more communication breakdown.

Encourage questions: Again, this is important because it puts the onus on the other person to pay attention. That’s the first step to bridging any communication gap. You have to make them feel comfortable and safe asking questions. Conversely, you should be asking questions too. This will help ensure everyone is communicating.

Written by Ross Fastuca @Locomote

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