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Preventing Miscommunication in Your Business

Follow these steps to prevent miscommunication within your company.

Q: What are some specific ways good communication can be managed in an organization?

A: Communication can easily make or break an organization's effectiveness. Just think about the times when you or others misunderstood an oral or written communication. Most likely, you even passed that message on to others, believing it was correct and appropriate. Soon, too many people probably received an incorrect message. It happens all the time. Feelings could have been hurt; products could have been ordered incorrectly, manufactured the wrong way or even cancelled-all of it by mistake.

To decrease the possibility of miscommunication, follow these four simple steps:

1. Seriously consider to whom you need to send a message. Make sure that the key people who receive the written or oral message are included. Omit the people who lack veto authority, who do not need to be informed, who have no responsibility for the message or its results, who will not act on the message or who should not have access to the information. One way to ensure you've involved the right people is to think about who should have a say in the message. Make your decisions accordingly.

2. Think about how to send the message: verbal or written. Verbal messages can easily be misinterpreted, especially when there are noises or distractions in the immediate surroundings; if the sender or receiver is anxious, uncertain or fearful; if the words used are unclear; or if the message is of high importance, complicated, detailed, unclear and so on. Nonetheless, messages often do need to be verbal, such as those delivered on the phone, in a meeting or while passing someone in a hallway. In those and other cases, as a leader, you must do what it takes to ensure the receiver correctly heard what you want him or her to hear. How do you do that?

  • Do not ask the person if he or she heard you or understood you. The answer to both questions is almost always yes. Why? Because no one wants the boss to think she is ignorant or wasn't paying attention, or that she misinterpreted the message.
  • Ask the receiver to repeat, in his own words, what it is that he heard you saying, just to ensure that both of you understood the same message. Or, for example, ask the receiver what the most difficult, easiest or complicated steps will be to carry out the task.

3. Follow up your verbal message with a written statement. In a meeting, if you make a planned statement that's important, distribute a copy of that message. If it was important but not planned or not written down, ask someone to repeat the statement. After a phone call, a brief encounter with someone or even at a scheduled meeting, follow up the statements with a written communication of understanding or confirmation.

4. Finally, decide who can communicate with whom. As a leader, your goal is to combine simplicity with effectiveness. You want messages to come in and out; you want the right people to receive them in an efficient and effective manner. That means deciding who speaks and writes to whom. Do all communications have to go through your office before being sent, approved or censored to others? Who speaks to the world outside of your organization? The public or government relations people? Managers? Individual employees? Who communicates with or approves communication with other managers, departments or sites?

If all communications need to pass through your office, you will have direct and complete control of formal information. This is a very time-consuming, bureaucratic and control-oriented approach with clear drawbacks. The disadvantage, however, of allowing everyone to speak with everyone is that the company message probably won't be uniform. So consider the risks before deciding how to handle company information.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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