Communication is defined as “the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium”. More pertinently, helpful communication that fosters trust, collegiality and usefulness is built upon sense-making and transparency. In my experience, ‘bad news’ is often not communicated appropriately, possibly through fear of the consequences on the receiver’s morale, productivity, etc. The irony is that most people within an ecosystem are well aware of the bad news, as it travels fast! Not imparting it suggests the withholding of important information and a lack of fortitude in the leadership.
Importantly, communication is not only relevant in times of distress. The sharing of the achievements of colleagues and the organisation is an opportunity to celebrate. It provides insightful information that goes beyond the usually limited ‘transactional’ scope of the communication ubiquitous within organisations.
To hold myself accountable for being helpful and consistent, I employ the principle of Communicate Fast and Communicate Often. As referenced in my article Management of Expectations, George Bernard Shaw observes that “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
Always consider the No Assumptions rule when communicating. Even if you believe you are aware of all the complexities and nuances of a particular matter, don’t assume your colleagues and other stakeholders are as well. Be succinct. Get to the point in language that is accessible to a broad audience. Avoid using spin doctoring of the information in the hope that it will soften the blow of bad news, or to avoid positioning yourself as a bad person.
All anyone wants to know is the truth, regardless of how painful the information or context may be. Don’t expect to be informed and included if you don’t afford others the same courtesy. I paraphrase something I read recently; “We always want others to be truthful, and don’t always afford the same in return”. A fast-track to broken-trust relationships is the withholding of information, especially if it pertains to money, time and respect.
Even if information cannot be shared with certain interested parties, especially during negotiations, etc., keep communicating, even if it is only to say “XYZ is still in process and I’ll share the information as soon as I have something useful to report”. If you state or publish a timeline, stick to it! Everyone involved will be expecting you to keep your word and will be planning their time and movements accordingly. Key culprits for tardiness are the recruitment process, restructures that get delayed, lease agreements that remain unsigned, etc. Life happens; timelines sometimes need to be changed. In these instances, be kind and helpful; communicate fast and often!
Here are a few aspects to consider:
1. Don’t simply state the action or objective. Rather, say “We are doing this because ….” The rationale (because) is critical for transparency, logic and helpfulness.
2. Ideally, all communication will be a continuum of prior interactions and correspondence, for helpful continuity. This will not always be the case of course, as when dealing with isolated matters or the unexpected. However, continuum is key.
3. Always ask, “How does what I am/we are doing (or proposing to do) align with our purpose, values and core responsibilities?” Holding the purpose as our true north assists greatly with the continuum aspect, tuning out the ever-present ‘noise’ that can unnecessarily clutter opportunities, and decision-making.
Communication is a discipline that requires integrity and consistency. Integrity and consistency foster trust and thriving. Trust and thriving provide the greatest opportunity for connection and growth.