The Over-Communicate Imperative: Pandemic Drives Home Another Reminder

by Bill Swift on June 1, 2020

in Communication

Maryland Day 2016

I’ve been taught to ask extra questions to get to the core of workplace issues. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes pandemics come along and remind us that clarity around policies, new procedures or just what to expect in general is critical to our team’s functioning.

This communication challenge thing is not a new issue, of course, but super-super-important in a Post-Pandemic world.

Last year we were providing a two-day supervisor-development session for a Cascade member, and the participants got focused on the biggest challenges for the supervisory team. Everybody’s list included “Problems with Communication.” With everything from a head nod to a fist pump, the team conveyed their frustration with communication in their workplace.

But, after all this agreement that a problem existed, a deeper dive revealed a more complex picture. When asked to specifically describe the communication issue that was bothersome, each supervisor had a different story to tell. For some it was connecting with certain employees on the priorities for their department, for others it was inconsistent messages from management. A few talked about how one department or shift failed to let the others know what problems or successes they were having. Another theme was how meeting content was lost from week to week. Then someone brought up emails (cue dramatic music- dom–dom-DOM) and the misunderstandings that they had experienced through email-only communication.

Turns out the “communication issue” was a bunch of things, each affecting the success of the team.

It’s tough sometimes to know exactly what irony is, but it seemed perhaps ironic that under the issue of communication, we were having trouble communicating what the communication issue was.

Does your workplace have a catch-all word for a problem that turns out to have several layers? It only takes two to miscommunicate. Add departments, shifts, language and culture. Add remote office work and different meeting schedules. Multiply by 10 or 20. Ah, “communication issues.”

It may be that these are universal and your challenges may just be a question of degree. In working with our member teams we have found some practical techniques to improve communication in all kinds of workplaces.

Here’s a few suggestions on how to identify, separate, and effectively address some of these important communication issues:

  • One-on-one communication. Teach listening and positive communication skills to all employees. These can be fun and invigorating sessions. Turns out these are skills we can use outside the workplace as well. Practice these skills in a ZOOM or GoToMeeting world.
  • Effective Meetings. Build in an accepted and positive meeting structure that includes a format for action items, ownership and time frames. Teach accountability best practices. There’s a few simple steps that can greatly improve the follow-up from team meetings.
  • Cross-department communication. Update your list of stakeholders at least quarterly and assign responsibility for each group to carry the message across shifts and between departments. Create a liaison role so someone can monitor improvement and challenges.
  • Strategy and vision. Over-communicate business initiatives and specific elements of strategy. Patrick Lencioni gives a useful overview of how to effectively communicate expected results. How’s and why’s seem to make a difference.
  • Business Communication. Teach email etiquette and other workplace best practices for improving connection and understanding.

Lastly, look for employees and supervisors who have a natural strength in getting the message across and encourage them to get involved. Great communicators love to be part of the reconnection strategy.

And when you hear “Communication is a problem around here,” dive a little deeper to find out what it is that your employees are experiencing that could improve. It is then that you can properly action plan each issue.

Your team may also want to take stock of words whose meanings have changed in the last couple of months. Here are some examples: Sanitization, Signage, Breakroom Cleaning, Shared Dishware, Meeting, Social Distancing, Screening, Audit, Isolation, Hand Washing, Contact Tracing, Workplace Travel.

We would love to hear your stories around communication challenges or successes. Please let us know what is working for you.

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