Communication is the act of sharing and conveying information between two or more individuals. It has so many components, and failing to communicate in the workplace effectively is commonplace.
Effective communication requires all components interworking perfectly for “shared meaning,” a favorite definition of communication. It is of particular importance when questions are asked and answered. You will find the components of effective communication and the forms and uses of questions to enhance it.
Components in Communication
There are five components to any communication and a sixth that is the overall environment of the workplace in which the back-and-forth takes place.
The Individual Sending the Message
The sender must present the message clearly and with enough detail so that the receiver shares meaning with the sender during and following the communication.
The Context for the Message
The context is how the message is delivered by the sender of the message. Context involves nonverbal communication such as gestures, body language, facial expressions, and elements such as the tone of voice. Most of the context for a message is only available when the receiver can see and hear the message sender. Email and IM emoticons/emojis, for example, are a poor substitution as the sender formulates them without input from the receiver.
Another piece of context is the emotions that are involved in the communication circle. Is the sender angry? Is the receiver indifferent to the content of the communication or disdainful of the sender? Normal human emotions affect whether a message is successfully shared.
The Person Receiving the Message
The receiver must listen carefully and intently, ask questions for clarity, and paraphrase to ascertain that they share meaning with the sender. If the receiver trusts the sender, the chances for effective communication increase. For example, a listener might say, "I think what you said is that you are feeling disrespected. Is this the message you were giving me?"
The Delivery Method You Choose
The delivery method should be selected based on the medium most effective to convey the meaning of the message. Since communication methods are so diverse since the dawn of computers and mobile devices, decisions about the delivery method have become more complex. The delivery method must suit the communication needs of both the sender and the receiver for shared meaning to occur.
Communication methods include verbal communication, instant messages (IM), email, letters, signs, posters, videos, screenshots, telephones, notes, forms, written documents, Facebook messages, Face Time, and more. These methods will continue to expand, and employee expectations for instant communication about everything having to do with their work will continue to grow.
In-person communication has increased in importance especially for organizational information that might call for change, provide employee recognition, or allow for on-the-spot questions. In-person communication is also favored because employees have access to another component, the context for the message.
The Content of the Message
The content of the message should be clear and presented and described in enough detail to obtain an understanding from the receiver. Understand that if the message content resonates and connects, on some level, with the already-held beliefs of the receiver, it is most effective.
Environment and Communication
The above components of communication promote shared meaning when they operate together to deliver a message effectively. The work environment in which those components take place also affects communication and whether the communication is received. So do the questions you ask.
When you ask valid questions, you build rapport and inspire confidence. Questions form another portion of the foundation for workplace communication that shares meaning between communicators.
In a work environment that stresses open communication, employee involvement, and common goals, communication more frequent and more effective. But, the expectation for significant communication sets the bar higher in these best workplaces. So, even in high morale, employee-focused work environments, employees complain that they don’t know what is going on.
Because of all of the components and the overall environment of an individual workplace, communication remains challenging. The age-old questions about who needs to know what and when do they need to know it is never fully answered to just about anyone’s satisfaction.
Employee complaints about too much information, not enough information, and even, information overload, will continue to resonate in workplaces.
The Bottom Line
You will never cure the problem of communication in the workplace. But, with commitment, thoughtfulness, and an understanding of the components of effective communication and appropriate questioning, you can increase the effectiveness of both your interpersonal and your workplace communication.