An Unfortunate Disconnect

Communication Breakdown (pt 2) by kilgub on Flickr
Communication Breakdown (pt 2) by kilgub on Flickr

I was talking to a newly returned student this evening about how she plans to juggle attending both my learning center and the larger one down the street.

While we were figuring this out, she mentioned that she was taking a nursing assistant class at that larger school.  I said something to the effect of, ‘oh, I’m surprised they offer that.’

Well, it turns out she thought I said, ‘oh, I’m surprised you’re smart enough to take that class.’

Communication Breakdown (pt. 1) by kigub on Flickr
Communication Breakdown (pt. 1) by kigub on Flickr

I clarified that no, no, I did not say such a thing and that I certainly don’t think it; I just did not know that they offered classes besides English and GED.  Well, she stopped laughing uncomfortably, so I hope that meant we ended up understanding one another…

I’m glad she was gutsy enough to call me out on what she thought I said.  I also can’t help but wonder how many other students think I’ve insulted them.  It’s disconcerting.

Addressing Communication Escalation

At work we’ve noticed some… communication escalation.  By this I mean:

  • One person will call 3-5 of the staff running our program and leave them all the same voicemail, which does not mention that she was calling several of us.
  • One person will both email me a question and leave me a voicemail about it within five minutes.
  • Someone who leaves a voicemail at 8AM (I don’t get in until 9) expresses frustration that she couldn’t get through to anybody when she calls again at noon and I “finally” answer.

It’s a typical case of people not seeing the big picture.  They’re thinking about their isolated concern, not about what they’re doing to the office and our ability to address everyone’s concerns.  Let me tell you, it’s frustrating to listen to a two-minute voicemail, look up some answers, call the person back, talk for ten minutes, then bring other questions to another colleague, only to find that that colleague had just talked to the person in question an hour ago about the same thing.  Yes, that has happened.  It’s a pity I couldn’t have used that time to call back 5 other people who also needed answers.

I honestly don’t blame people for getting worked up and feeling that they need to bombard us in order to receive an answer.  I do want to offer them some guidelines for not slowing down everything for everyone else though.

I’m not the only one in the office who’s noticed that this problem has been increasingly insistent, and we’re discussing some policies that might help us reign it in within our department.  Measure’s we’re considering:

  1. Sending out an automatic reply to every email stating our reply policy (i.e. staff set aside x amount of time to reply to emails per day.  Non-urgent emails will be answered, but not immediately.)
  2. Leaving a new voicemail greeting everyday outlining our meeting schedule for the day and when callers can expect a reply.
  3. Indicating on our voicemails and emails that staff check both regularly, so a message in one of those systems will be sufficient.

Has anyone else noticed this happening?  What do you think causes it?  How have you addressed it, or how do you wish you could address it?  Can social media help?

Re: Question about Listening

I did actually receive a few answers about 6/25’s listening question.

Paraphrased response via phone:

  • ‘why did you ask?’

I asked because it comes up extremely frequently in both my work and personal life.  I’ve noticed that many of the people around me fail to listen, and more irritatingly, that I often fail to listen to them.

Paraphrased responses via Twitter:

  • ‘because people are afraid they’ll hear something they don’t like’
  • ‘yep, it’s a problem for me too.’
  • ‘because you think what you have to say is more important’

From an experience yesterday, I would add:

  • unwilling to accept a situation they don’t like

It reminds me of something my uncle said years ago that cracked me up.  He remarked that sometimes people “invent their own reality and then proceed to live in it.”  Though it’s valid to choose your attitude and your battles, if you’re immersed in Personal Reality, Population: 1, you’re probably pretty positive that your opinions trump all others, making listening understandably difficult.

So how do we prevent total disconnection of ourselves and our organization from generally accepted reality?  How can we ease the fears that can go along with real listening?  Is it possible to create an environment where people are confident they will be heard and that listening is worth their time?  What other layers of complexity (generation, culture, etc.) are people untangling along the way to an environment condusive to listening?

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?