One-way Communication Kills Communication

One-way communication is doomed to failure yet managers, supervisors, foreman, and parents continue to use it.

One-way communication is basically telling someone what you want them to do and not giving the person an opportunity to ask questions for clarification. How many times this week have you told someone what you want done and turned and walked away? How many times have you been disappointed or upset when someone didn’t do what you either asked for or told them to do?

Any good English as a second language instructor will tell you they always check to ensure the student understands directions, requests, or inquiries. The instructors understand the person listening to them may interpret differently. As a leader you must recognize your staff and colleagues can’t read your mind and the words you use may have a different meaning to them. This is particularly true if the part of your workforce learned English as a second language, yet it’s not exclusive to those individuals.

Quality versus excellence

For example, take the word quality, what does it mean to you? Based on your experience and education, quality may mean excellence. The person you’re talking to may very well equate quality to a job well done, but not an “over the top job”.

Three steps to improvement

1.    We all know we have two ears and one mouth. Your first step in improving communication at work and in the home is to use them in the appropriate proportion; listen at least twice as much as you talk. That’s active listening, not just hearing sound vibrations.

2.    The second step is to give the person you’re talking with an opportunity to ask questions. Active questioning on your part, and the other individuals part, is what makes a conversation. As a former journalist I learned the value of who, what, why, where, when, and how questions. When I have been most effective as a leader, open-ended questions, using the W5, have been my best tool.

3.    Now comes the hardest part in effective communication—follow-up. I’m a firm believer in management by walking around. If I’m not visible to my people, they don’t think I care. If I’m visible and checking to see if they need anything from me, I’m the leader. I don’t check on people to see if they are doing the job the way I think should be done. If I’ve done my job in hiring, coaching and mentoring, I don’t need to be concerned. They’ll be doing it as I asked, or even better.

The next time you’re tempted to tell a colleague, employee, or your child what to do without providing an opportunity for clarifying questions, you’re not communicating or leading.

Garth Roberts