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Clarity Clash

One of my favourite games from my childhood was the game we call "Broken Phone", known somewhere as Chinese Whispers.

It's that game where the first player whispers a sentence to the person next to him, and each player tries to pass it on. But it almost always, especially if there are a lot of players, changes its meaning by the end of the whole round.

In addition to the fact that the game could have an unlimited number of players, from the three of us to the whole class, it could be played by both younger and older, and just about anyone from our school or street. Its greatest charm is that its outcome has always been a surprise.

Even when the message was short of only a few words, by the tenth player it took on a completely different form, sometimes so funny, and often opposite in meaning to the initial message.

Unfortunately, this game often happens in reality and spoils our relationships, friendships and jobs.

Photo: Hebert Santos

Every manager, team leader, and even every team member knows that communication, and correct and clear communication, are the basis of a well-done job or project. Every student knows that if it is not clear to him what the teacher wants from him in an assignment, the solution to that assignment can only be corrected by chance.

Although in theory what we call communication in a team means a process in which information between individuals is shared through a system of symbols, signs and behaviour between a group of people gathered around a job or activity, there is much room for misunderstandings.

Although team members always exchange some information, this does not mean that they do so effectively.

Misunderstandings can lead to team members assuming something and having expectations based on wrong information. They create closed circles for part of the team, while others do not get this information. Misunderstandings also lead to conflicts about how information should be understood.

When there are so many opportunities for mistakes, it is clear to us that communication in a team is much more complex than it seems at first glance.

We want to communicate better

When I ask anyone if they want to improve their communication skills, almost everyone tells me that they do. At the same time, absolutely all managers or team leaders answer that question with "Of course I want to".

It is very easy to find the answer to why this is so.

Conflicts should be resolved earlier

Good communication in the team means that conflicts are recognized and resolved much earlier. Many problems in the internal communication of a company start precisely because some error in what was written or said was not dealt with early enough.

It is often the case that the team leader gives a vague request to the employees and they are afraid to ask the question. It is equally possible that team members were not given clear objectives. Then tasks are slowed down and delayed, and those who need to do them feel as if their hands are tied or ignored.

Team members need to be more engaged

An employee who participates in his work and loves his job wants to accomplish his tasks and thus helps the company he works for. The worker who is left out of the information process becomes the one for whom work ceases to be important and who works only to get a salary and only enough so that no one threatens him with dismissal.

The disinterest of employees in work is most often the result of bad internal communications in the company. Disinterest grows if leaders do not know how to explain to them what the company's goals are, and it also grows if employees feel that their contribution is not valued or noticed.

Participation or greater engagement of employees increases with better communication in the team. If the team leader can encourage members to dialogue then he can find out why some team members feel isolated.

Strengthen communication from below

Communication from lower to higher levels must be strengthened. In practice, this means that any employee at any level can participate in communicating ideas or feedback about what is happening around them. Every good company must have communication channels that can jump over the usual hierarchy. Information then goes not only in one direction from the management down, but also in the opposite direction. When managers know what is pressing those who implement projects, they can quickly change the way they work to minimize damage or slow down. And they can also get ideas on how to speed up certain processes or make them better.

At the same time, this way of communicating gives employees a tool to participate in something that can have an impact on decisions and the direction the company is moving.

Transparent company culture

If we have the feeling that the company we work for lacks clear and open communication in the environment in which we work, the chances are much higher that we will start looking for our future outside the company. Or even worse, for both us and the company, that we will be frustrated, share that frustration among our colleagues and eventually lead to "burnout".

A rigid hierarchical structure that prevents information from reaching lower levels of the organization has nothing to look for in a transparent modern company. By developing communication in teams, companies can strengthen dialogue that will remove barriers between higher and lower decision-making levels.

This way of communicating leads to greater trust between leaders and employees.

How to create effective communication in the team?

Unfortunately, no solution suits all teams and all methods of communication. Something may be good for one team and not necessarily for another. There are different styles of communication, but what they have in common is that they follow one strategy.

There are several different ways people communicate in the workplace – analytical, intuitive, personal and functional.

Those who communicate analytically depend on data and details. Their decisions are supported by concrete facts and figures, and emotional arguments are forgotten. Logic is more important than feelings, and because of this, many communicators who are of this type can appear distant from others. On the other hand, they enable transparency, and availability of all information as well as the sources of that information. In this type of communication, it is best to argue with numbers, not with assessments and evaluations.

The intuitive type of communication is opposite to the analytical one. For intuitive communication, the big picture is more important than focusing on the small elements of which it is composed. This way of thinking and communicating is typical for creative people and their solutions are usually unusual. They wonder more about why something is being done what is behind the project and how to fit it into a bigger strategy.

The personal communication style is something we could also call a diplomatic communication style and is excellent in recognizing and resolving conflicts. This way of communicating takes into account emotions, and personal relationships and understands non-verbal communication. Those who prefer this way of communication usually do not like to work remotely and clear and frequent communication is important to them for motivation and greater engagement.

In the way they receive information, such communicators are more similar to intuitive ones because they respond better to an emotional connection. But unlike them, they don't ask about why a project is being implemented, but rather why they are in it and how they can contribute to it.

Functional communicators are therefore closer to analytical ones because they love details and plan every step. If someone in the team asks the question "what if..." it is usually someone who communicates that way. They like to know all the details of the project so they can see in advance what can go wrong. When they hear a new idea, they are interested in exactly how it will be implemented. They often know how to bring intuitive persons who think outside the box to the ground, but having them in the team means having those who will be the ones who will most easily move from words to actions.

Every team has its dynamics

Understanding the different styles preferred by individual team members is a way to better share information and collaborate better. If the team members are analytical, let's bring them data, if they are more intuitive, let's give them the bigger picture. Each team has its special dynamics, but the entire company must have ways to use communication tools for the benefit of themselves and the company and stick to the communication strategy they have.

How to improve communication?

Think about the ways you communicate now. Changing the way of communication and using a new tool or new forms of communication can seem like a big challenge even for small, and also large companies. How the adaptation to the new tool or new rules will go, and whether it will slow down work processes is also a good question. However, the habit or feeling of employees that e-mail and telephone are quite enough for them does not mean that they should not make a step towards something new. Sometimes it's a problem to answer the phone and have time to talk, and we often tend to check our emails twice a day - in the morning and in the afternoon.

Each team member must know exactly what the rules of communication are. Although it seems like too many rules and excessive micromanaging, it is good to tell the team members what is the expected and appropriate way of communication in the team and how often or when to check your inbox so as not to miss something important.

It is equally important to listen to what team members are saying. Although feedback from team members is at a lower level of priority, responding to it is what improves team communication, especially for those team members who work from remote locations. It is a good idea to ask for feedback with the help of a prepared questionnaire that will answer questions about how practical the tool they are using is for them, whether they are getting enough information, whether they can communicate freely with colleagues and managers, and what their expectations are of communicating with them.

The answers to these questions will help the development of the communication strategy and possible changes to communication tools, but also the better design of communication instructions.

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