They're Not Just Words - They Mean Business
Most of a chief officer's time is spent communicating. However,
often not enough time is spent making sure that communication is
successful. Many hurdles stand in the way of clear, undistorted
communication. For example:
- We often begin speaking before we think about what we are
going to say.
- Each of the 500 most commonly used words in the English
language has an average of 28 definitions. That fact alone can
lead to a significant breakdown somewhere between the intent
of the messenger and the receiver of the message.
- Egos get in the way. Rather than attempting to communicate
clearly, we sometimes assume that our subordinates should adjust
to our style of communication.
The Need for Clear Communication
Two reasons to strive for improving communication within the
- Good communication is vital to building a cohesive staff
and minimizing employee turnover.
- Employee rights are protected more today than ever before,
and there is a trend towards judgements and penalties against
employers who do not keep pace with employment laws,
regulations and concerns. Good dialogue between management
and personnel can resolve many issues in the early stages.
Putting it bluntly, employees don't want to work for a jerk.
They will leave for better conditions as soon as the opportunity
presents itself. Theft, property damage, interruption of
productivity, and revealing sensitive information to the
competition are a few consequences employers can expect when
staff members don't feel respected. The key to changing that
perception is good communication.
There is an outdated school of management that contends that a
tough, no-nonsense boss is the only way to deal with people. I
contend that you can, and should, be tough and no-nonsense - if
that's the type of person you are. The worst thing you can do
as an owner or manager is to be someone you're not and to deal
with your staff as such. It is important to note, however, that
there is a significant difference between being firm and being a
jerk. See if you can tell the difference between the two
personality types based on the following descriptions:
To treat employees fairly we need to set standards and
communicate them early. If higher productivity and lower
turnover is a goal for you, effective communication is essential.
- Demanding, consistent, sets high standards, has little
patience for sloppy work.
- Abusive, inconsistent, makes irrational demands, points out
blame for simple mistakes.
Rules For Good Communication
In order for successful communication to occur, there are three
edicts that must be fulfilled:
Communication is a two-way process, and sometimes rouses
attitudes and emotions. In these cases, don't expect rational
feedback. By the same token, if you communicate by do not
listen, there is little chance that you will be understood.
- For the listener to receive the message, he or she must
accept what is being said.
- What you are saying must make sense to the party receiving
- Messages have important and not-so-important components.
Communicate the important parts clearly if you want your message
to be clearly understood.
The following suggestions will help you set aside prejudices,
biases and blindfolds to become a better communicator.
- Carefully plan what you want to emphasize
- Think about what kind of reaction you can expect from the
person with whom you plan to communicate.
- Think about your experience with the person so you are
aware of sensitive issues.
- Think of what my be of interest or value to that person.
- Know that the individual with whom you plan to communicate
has at least two questions: "What's in it for me?" and "How will
I be affected?" Develop your message accordingly.
- Know that the meaning of your message is not in the words
you use, but in the person with whom you are communicating.
- Consider your attitude towards the individual and his or
her attitude towards you.
- Realize the importance of an organized, logical message.
- Organize your message to make full use of its psychological
- Take control of your emotions and biases so they will not
distort your communication.
- Make certain that your ideas and facts are correct before
you begin communicating.
- Look at the whole picture and its impact.
- Avoid glib generalities, stereotypes and cliches.
- Create a climate for acceptance from the other person.
- Try to anticipate what the other party may misinterpret or
ignore about your communication.
- Consider the best mode of communication for an individual:
face-to-face, phone, group meeting, written, etc.
Selecting Your Words
The words we use send messages about our feelings and attitudes.
Avoid this destructive game playing. Following are some
suggestions that may help avoid these hurdles:
- Don't use fancy words.
- Avoid words and phrases that arouse emotion.
- When giving orders, explain the reason for the order and
how it will benefit the individual.
- Avoid beating a "dead" horse. Overcommunicating can be as
bad as not communicating at all.
- Encourage feedback, suggestions or criticisms.
- Make a clear distinction between facts and inferences or
- Make sure your words are clearly understood.
- Don't be patronizing.
- Consider the other person's feelings and make an effort to
help him or her "save face" and maintain self-esteem.
- Encourage follow-up communication from that individual.
- Don't indulge in self references. They're boring.
- Don't try to put words in the other person's mouth.
- If you use visual aids, make sure they illustrate what you
are trying to communicate.
- Don't digress or go off on tangents.
How to Conduct Yourself in Oral Communication
- Make eye contact, but don't stare the person down.
- Pay attention to what the other person is saying. Avoid
doing other things wile the individual is talking and control
such mannerisms as tapping your pencil. Refrain from
interrupting if possible.
- Do not monopolize the conversation. Communication is a
- Know that body language and facial expressions are an
important part of communication.
- Speak clearly so the other party can listen easily.
- Pause occasionally so the person can take a moment to grasp
what you are communicating.
- Use the person's first name.
- If things get tense or you get angry, control your facial
expressions and the intensity of your voice.
- If you're not sure that the person fully understands your
message, ask that person to restate what you have said in his
or her own words.
- Pay attention to the person's emotional tone.
- Listen with an open mind and be willing to change your
viewpoint if appropriate.
- Try to create a climate of mutual respect.
Employer/employee relations can be tricky. If good
communication is lacking, an employee may not be aware of his or
her own problem behavior until the termination interview. For
the employer, poor communication can result in charges of unfair
employment practices. Early communication and preventive action
are preferred to the "head-in-the-sand" approach.
Reprinted from FireWatch!
Update History This page is brought to you as a
courtesy of the National Association of Fire Equipment
Distributors, and was last updated on September 24, 1995.
Copyright © 1995, National Association of Fire
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