Have you, on one of your MBWA tours, ever come across something that is not working and then think to yourself “Well, it’s not my place to fix it”?

Or have you been to see a staff member about a task, only to come away half an hour later and realise that the one thing you did not cover was the task? Or perhaps you’ve just had to fix up a problem caused by someone not understanding your request – despite the fact you had told them twice?

In each of these cases the mix-up was caused by attitudes creating ineffective communication.

In the first one, this attitude comes out of a clear structure of command and control. I may see problems but if I try to fix them I can be accused of stepping outside my authority and interfering with another department.

In the second, I had not clearly understood the process of information communication and allowed myself to be sidetracked, and in the last example I simply did not give clear instructions and clarified for understanding.

And yet each one of those examples will be part of most manager’s or supervisor’s real time experience.

Which seems absolutely contradictory to the fact that one of the most identified characteristics for effective management is clear communication. This is acerbated by the fact that the major part of any manager’s working day is interaction with people. If we all understand the need, why are we still getting the practice so wrong?

In 1982 Peters and Waterman brought out the book “In Search of Excellence” in which they levelled an accusatory finger at the Business Schools and Courses being taught (at that time mainly in America). Examining the outcomes of such institutions they claim that the average business graduate would be familiar with; and therefore more comfortable with, the concepts of ‘standardisation, efficiency and productivity through analysis and rationalisation’.

Armed with these concepts they launched out into the real world and found … people!

And people are many and varied; and people are emotional creatures; and people require far different solutions than just ‘efficiency and productivity thorough analysis’. And people cannot be ‘standardised’ despite all the Human Resources taught; and people are very rarely rational when it comes to their own concerns.

Cue Four Major Strategies for Effective Leaders! I am, in my own mind, quite sure that in many books and training sessions these four aspects of leadership would have been discussed, dissected and adopted by any number of eager students – but, with hindsight, let us see if we can identify the one simple reason they probably won’t work.

1. Effective Managers need ‘Systems’ – when we have carefully analysed the required outcomes of our business we create ‘systems’ which will ensure these outcomes are certain. We get Standard Operating Procedures (SoP’s); and these will lay down recommended actions designed to give predicable results.

The knowledge of the ‘systems’ create a sense of a ‘Right Way’ and of course a ‘Wrong Way’ which can segue into an organisational culture of “That’s the way we do it around here!” In fact we can have systems in place designed to handle everything that occurs in the business including personal interaction.

With that mind set, creative solutions can be discouraged, alternative outcomes are not investigated and we begin to Play by the Book – the Rule Book that is.

But people don’t like rule books, and often people as a homogenous whole can rarely be analysed successfully. So while ‘systems’ will give us good results when applied to practical activities they can be recipes for disasters if we use them to interact with real people, So Strategy One – Effective Managers need Systems – but they probably won’t work if created for interaction with people.

2. Effective Managers need to ‘Take Control’ – now being ex-military I know that sometimes this is necessary; we need to have the control to dictate the actions to achieve the desired outcomes. But that is a maxim for combat or crisis situations not for the storeroom of a major retailer.

Feeling a need to be in control can foster a reliance on systems; and we have seen that systems may not be the effective way to handle personal interaction. But a manager who feels the need to maintain control will take that attitude into any one-on-one communication with predictable results. The other person is one of those ‘people’ – with all the inconsistency that entails.

Someone who needs to demonstrate control will rarely engage in a two-way communication process – unfortunately people like two-way communication and rarely react positively to one-way; deeming it dictatorial and autocratic. Which is basically what ‘taking control’ is all about.

3.  Effective managers seek to accumulate Power – Power is an aspect of leadership which comes and goes into fashion. In the early 90’s we had a surge of ‘macho managers’ and then it fell from grace. These days, with the fall out from the GFC, there seems to be an attitude that ‘leadership through power’ is necessary to ‘regulate’ executives and managers who were dangerously independent – and just see what happened!

Once you believe yourself to be a ‘person of power’ it affects the way you interact with everyone. There is a certain way in which you will deliver your requests; often they become more like orders. There is an attitude that a leader with power is like the ancient gods, we all bask in their smiles and fear their anger. And people with power in a leadership or managerial position are far more likely to be like Zeus – throwing thunderbolts than they are to be like Ganymede – bearing cups of wine for merrymaking.

We are all generally, far more likely to criticise than we are to praise. If someone asks you for feedback on a project do you praise the parts well done – or do you immediately criticise those areas you feel need improving. Well, you are not alone.

And so powerful leaders, whose word is law often focus on what needs to be changed and improved rather than what is done well and can be praised. Have a guess what really motivates those inconvenient people?

4. Effective Managers are Logical and Rational – one of the accusations thrown at women leaders is that they are ‘irrational’ and therefore are, by default, unable to become good leaders.

Rational leaders believe that if they give us good reasons; point out the facts or explain things in a logical way; everyone will immediately see the force of their arguments; and those that oppose them are obviously ‘emotional’ – just like women!

But people are not rational, they are (even if they don’t show it outwardly) emotional beings. There will be multitude of external factors which our colleagues will bring into work with them. It might be something simple like a row with their partner. It could be that a child is unwell or not performing satisfactorily at school.

It might even be that some inconsiderate driver cut them off at the intersection. In the light of the emotions created by these worries, problems and frustrations all the rationality in the world is not going to work.

So have you identified the one factor that can throw each of these carefully researched strategies into left field yet? – of course it is the human element – it is the people we interact with each and every day.

I have highlighted that each day we, as leaders, spend the majority of our time interacting with people. We know that we all look for and appreciate effective communication skills which can aid that process – and if we are honest we will also admit that probably we do not handle interpersonal communication as well as we should.

So what is the answer – is it more reading? Well, understanding the problem is often the first step in arriving at a solution, and reading up on the subject may help us to identify our own problems, but it may not actually provide us with workable answers.

So what about training in communication skills then? That depends on what training you undertake. Most people when faced with the knowledge they have a communication problem will automatically opt for ‘public speaking’ skills. Now, that will give you great information on ways to focus your thoughts to create clear presentations, but it may not be effective if you take public speaking skills into a disciplinary interview.

While training is indeed the answer, – it needs to be training in the whole communication process and I believe it needs to be conducted in the very place it usually fails – the corporate environment; and it needs to be done with the very people who get it wrong – the company managers and executives.

Individual skills are good, but if there is an environment that creates a poor communication climate it needs more than just one person to effect positive changes.

Unfortunately, with the financial situations still uncertain, many organisations are cutting back on such soft skills as communication training, with the inevitable result that a bad situation can rapidly get worse.

So there you have it – the Four Major Strategies that we have probably all learned; and to which we have given close attention and consideration. And one simple reason that it all goes wrong,

And; also maybe an idea for you to consider which can help make your interpersonal communication far more effective in your corporate field. Why not talk to us about it soon.

Michele @ Trischel

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