Communication and Your Career

Career Opportunities podcast logoCommunicating well with those around you may be one of the most important parts of any career. Whether you are communicating with your family, your co-workers, your managers or the world, whenever you fail to communicate effectively, the consequences are swift and painful. If you are having issues in your career, take some time to think about how you are communicating. I can guarantee you will find something lacking in your approach that might have prevented a lot of workplace angst.

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I was reminded about the importance of communication through a recent event in my own life. It involved a school announcement that the archdiocese (my son attends Catholic grade school) would be adding 20 days to school year, starting with the Fall 2011 calendar. While I personally had no real issues with this, the outcry from other parents was swift and loud. There were a variety of arguments against adding these days, but I believe at the heart of the argument was the presentation of this new policy as a fait accompli (a thing accomplished and presumably irreversible, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary).

Almost anyone will chafe and rebel against any policy sent down from “on high.” Especially here in the United States, such pronouncements are likely to be met with anger and often result in protracted angst around the decision. Each time this occurs I remind myself how much easier the process would have been, and how much more effective, had the policy been communicated, evaluated and discussed long before it was ever put in place. Springing a new policy on someone, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, sends signals that the authority figure has no respect, and limited understanding, of the people whom the policy will effect.

Why does this poor communication continue to be the norm in most organizations? I think it is due to a very common fallacy. The creator of the policy thinks that by presenting a fait accompli they can bypass discussion, changes and arguments about the policy. They believe they have crafted the perfect policy and that anyone would be silly to argue against it. To believe this is to deny human nature, though. Even the best policy or the most useful policy will be heartily questioned when presented as a done deal. Instead of facing the limited, well-reasoned discussion of a policy when created in concert with the public, the organization ends up with angry, loud and downright nasty disagreements.

Even worse, such “after the fact” arguments often spill over from the one policy to expose deep divisions in a group. Like a bad marital argument, the complaints about one topic quickly spill over into a litany of complaints about every previous affront, real or perceived. It exposes deep divisions among the members of an organization and, in the worst cases, it can tear the organization apart.

Organizers and executives can have real fears about opening up the decision-making process to those they manage, but if they fail to do so, they will end up fighting a much larger battle later. When there is little or no communication, people will always assume the worst. They will lose any sense of trust in the executives and even the organization as a whole. They will come to see themselves not part of a team, but merely expendable workers that aren’t worth consulting on important issues that directly effect them. Through a failure of the relatively simple act of communication, greater troubles are often created.

The next time you are examining a new policy within your group or company, think deeply about how communication can smooth the path. Early discussions, while sometimes difficult are much less troublesome and confrontational than discussions after the fact. Just as you probably have an innate resistance to pronouncements from “on-high”, those you manage or lead will have the same. The path to greater productivity and harmony resides in early, frequent and respectful communication. Anything less leads to issues and turmoil that need not occur.

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