Last time, we looked at the types of relationships that we develop within a working community, and how our communication and expectations of that communication change.

The working environment is built on relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, and a variety of purposes.  Our style of communication will alter to reflect those differences.  Whether we engage One-on-one with a friend or as an Individual to a Group, as in a briefing or training session, our communication when it refers to our working life needs to be clear and coherent to all. 

But the further up the chain, the more opportunity we have to misjudging the style and the purpose of the communication.

And as we can communicate as an individual, we can also be engaged in communication as a group member, even as a spokesperson of a group.  We looked at the interview from the individual’s point of view, but when we are part of that panel conducting the interview then we speak as a group. 

The overwhelming aspect of communication as a group to an individual is that such a relationship can be threatening, even confrontational forcing the individual into a defensive state.  Whatever the purpose of the exchange this type of relationship is not conducive to good communication.

Luckily, not all Group to Individual communication is so adversarial; many organisations now have ‘support groups’ which are there to assist individuals with problems, or mentor them for advancement or merely to support them through difficult times.  Here the communication process is supportive and encouraging.

Group to Group relationships are much different, and these are usually based on a more formal and impersonal level.  They are often developed to address organisational problems and will be facilitated by an individual.  When communicating as part of the group we will often take on the group identity rather than our personal one.

Group to Group interaction can also be confrontational – union meetings with management will often require good negotiation skills on both sides to achieve workable solutions.  Unfortunately these are often the very skills missing from such communication.

When we start to look at a Group communicating with the Organisation, there will be very little chance to make the communication personal.  Such exchanges usually involve reports, Proposals, suggestions and information.  They are often conducted in writing and there may be little opportunity to expand or clarify. 

The problem with submitting written reports without the personal element is that the receiver can interpret the information, suggestion or opinion in accordance with their preferred outcome.  It’s a sort of Individual ‘group-think’ conundrum. In addition, if the organisation does not have a clear policy on open communication, reports – like the Group-think phenomenon – can be slanted to conform to perceived preferences. 

Likewise communication suffers when it comes from management to departments, (Organisation to Group).  Notices, Information and Direction can be issued impersonally and interpreted by the Group and the Individual quite personally.  The result may not be what the Organisation expected.

One of the core value statements of any organisation is their mission statement.  This is information that every member of the organisation at every level should be absolutely clear about.  The Mission Statement tells each member exactly what the company is trying to achieve and the standard to apply when trying to achieve it.

You can test the effectiveness of the Organisation to Group communication in your location by doing a quick random survey. Ask as many people as you can in, say five minutes, just what the mission statement for your company is – and what it means.

Theoretically they should be the same, or at least so close as to be unambiguous.  However I am willing to bet that there will be quite distinct variations as people interpret them in different ways.  This could be potentially damaging to the company, because if the core values communicated are so widely misunderstood, what does it say for the other essential information or direction which is being disseminated?

Relationships within the workplace often develop overtime with little recognition of the purpose or the communication requirements.

What kind of relationships can you immediately indentify in your workplace?  The easy ones will be the ones that we enjoy, the relationships we have with friends or likeminded individuals.  We will probably be aware of the other personal relationships even if they are more formal and structured.  But, it is when we go further that we often do not recognise that we are engaged in another distinct type of relationship that demands a different type of communication.

Do we work in teams? –‘ individual to individual’ relationship is combined with individual to group at the same time.  Part of a ‘think-tank’ that is presenting their ideas to the board? – you are in a ‘Group to Group’ relationship  that will demand a far more formal structure.

So our workplace is actually a hot-bed of relationships of one sort or another; and whichever one we are engaged in at the moment, it will need clear communication that is tuned to the purpose and, ideally, has the opportunity to clarify.

And what about relationships outside the workplace?  Ah… that’s another thing altogether!  Except –  if we understand the purpose of the communication, the expectations of the communication and engage in the three virtues of all communication (Listen, think then speak) – we might have a chance of getting that right too.

Michele @ Trischel

Kaye, Michael (1994) Communication Management, Sydney, Australia, Prentice Hall Pty Ltd

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