Communication Patterns at Work

Author: Melih KÜÇÜKERDÖNMEZ, SW Consultant

Looking back at human evolution, it feels natural to identify communication as a simple or basic process. After all, we had thousands of years to perfect it, right? But, how is it that we are still struggling with it? Why aren’t we still intuitively efficient? Could the complexity originate from the ever-increasing amount of content material? Probably, but let’s start with the basics first.

The main purpose of communication is exchanging various kinds of information among people. Considering only verbal and written language, communication takes many different forms directly affected by the content or need. Although good communication skills only affect our social life (and maybe getting a bargain for the wine decanter you wanted) and therefore does not matter much whether you are efficient or not, it is much more consequential in the workplace. Ideally, you need to provide and receive just the right amount of information required to sustain your work. And you also want the information exchange to take as little time as possible. So, both your time and others’ would not be spent unnecessarily. Time is essential, alright.

Communication should lead to understanding by all parties involved. The understanding is crucial because that’s what enables achieving any amount of work. Following that, our next concern would be ambiguity. If understanding is so important, what would happen at work if people understand things differently? Since any kind of work most likely requires collaboration, isn’t this a big problem? It is, indeed. And in fact, our daily business life requires spending a great deal of energy and time to clarify information, in order to assure understanding is more objective and universal.

The third aspect of communication is the metadata itself.

  • Who were involved in it?
  • Which method or medium was used? (face-to-face talking, a messaging tool, phone call, etc.)
  • When did it take place?

It is not always certain when to use a received information, wouldn’t you agree? Therefore, being able to access information whenever needed is as important as the information itself. It doesn’t matter if you only took a mental note after a small chat with your colleague: You still need to remember that you took a note, if you want to recall that note at the right time. Thankfully, there are lots of communication tools at hand that stores every bit of every communication that ever took place.

So, what is the right tool for the intended communication? Take my advice and stop searching (or developing one), because there are none. Some took their shots, in the form of “digital workplace”, to build a communication product that would replace all other applications. Confronted by the enormous complexity, most gave up themselves or people stopped using them. Then, what’s the other option? To identify each communication form and find a suitable medium or tool for that? This could work if the number of methods are small, like 4 or 5 at most. I myself use, without any ordering, a digital workplace platform, e-mail, WhatsApp (not the business version) for people or team-centric needs and comment on JIRA and Confluence for content-centric discussions. But still, do you need another niche tool to effectively communicate some other kind of content, for instance, innovation ideas? If you have considerable number of people doing that and frequently, the answer is obviously yes. But now the other group wants another tool that is specialized for meetings, which is another kind of communication. As you see, this may get out of hand very quickly.

It is all about balance of course. People in a workplace should be guided on how to use the primary and secondary communication channels. Employees should not put a comment in a task tracking tool to their manager asking “Can we meet?”, not call their colleague to learn what the red circle in their schema meant, not try to describe a functionality in an e-mail, and surely not copy a 3000-word text from a blog and post it in a chat tool. For most of the time, people tend to find the most convenient medium to communicate better. But still, the company should have clear suggestions on the best ways that apply to the business context. Employees would try and improve these suggestions as they see fit, and this should be allowed by the company as well, if they ever want to see work being done faster and better.

 

References:
1. Exploring the workplace communication ecology, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-60558-929-9, https://doi.org/10.1145/1753326.1753449
2. Investigating Verbal Workplace Communication Behaviors, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943612474990
3. 
https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Management-Blog/2017/10/How-to-Overcome-Bad-Workplace-Communication

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.