There’s always one of them in an organization. Sometimes, there’s more. And you’d probably recognize this person in a heartbeat. We’ll call her Miss Communication. And here’s a lesson she learned the hard way about self awareness in the workplace.
Miss Communication does a lot of things right, for sure. She prides herself in making her boss look good. She’s a hard worker who always does what she says she’s going to do. And she consistently brings good ideas to the table. All of which has helped her advance her career. But as she’s moved through the ranks—first as manager, then director and, recently, VP—she’s become increasingly confused about people.
Miss Communication thinks she’s a good leader. And a strong communicator. After all, she holds regular meetings, sends detailed memos, shares her story through videos and more. Surely people know about her business vision. And, more importantly, surely they care about it. Surely.
Miss Communication goes on a site visit
One day, Miss Communication visited an offsite location of her company, Widget & Co. She had recently done a webcast about the strategic direction and business goals for the coming year, and she was excited to hear what the staff learned from it. The business unit had been slow to respond to her request for a visit, but she figured they were just doing some background planning. Eventually, things came together and she didn’t give it a second thought.
When Miss Communication arrived, Mr. Lowerladder greeted her, unenthusiastically. When she asked where Ms. Higherladder was, Mr. Lowerladder explained that, as had been previously explained, it was a really busy time for the team. Ms. Higherladder was working closely with his team this week to solve a business issue that just came up and was causing gridlock.
Miss Communication understood and decided to use the time she would have spent with Ms. Higherladder to meet some of the others on the team. Everywhere she went, though, people greeted her with half-smiles and nods. “They’re just nervous to be around me,” she thought.
She spent the next two hours hopping from meeting to meeting to offer her input and see what questions team members had about the vision for next year. To her dismay, the team asked very few questions. “Hmmm, that’s unusual,” she mumbled to herself. Nevertheless, she trudged forward and continued sharing key messages about the new vision with anyone who’d listen.
As she packed up her things to go, Miss Communication was frustrated. She stopped by Mrs. Middleladder’s office to say goodbye, as she had not had a chance to catch up with her. When Mrs. Middleladder wasn’t in, she asked her assistant to pass on her message of thanks for the visit. “Oh, Mrs. Middleladder won’t be in for a few days. Her mother has been ill and took a turn for the worst recently,” said the assistant. “Her team has been spotting her for the past couple of weeks, and they’ve been doing a great job.”
Suddenly, a lightbulb went on. Miss Communication was making it all about her.
She never asked when it was a good time to visit. Instead, she told others when she was visiting. Miss Communication didn’t ask why people hadn’t had time to check out her recent webcast. She never inquired why everyone seemed stressed. She focused simply on getting her information across.
Miss Communication assumed it was “all about her.” And to some degree, it was. Miss Communication was in other people’s way today. She was a barrier to business progress at a time when the team needed to focus. She appeared unaware that team members were struggling just to keep their head above water.
The miscommunication was Miss Communication’s fault.
“How could I be so clueless? And better yet, what can I do to make it right?” she thought.
Miss Communication’s missteps could have been avoided if she had just kept three key things in mind:
Engage in dialogue: Two-way dialogue can improve understanding and engagement. So, try to have conversations with people, instead of just pushing information their way.
Stay humble: Related to the point above, when you’re humble, you become part of the team and make real progress. But that requires picking up on cues and listening when others have input, observations and feedback. People have a right to be heard and understood.
See the bigger picture: While you might have an agenda, don’t forget that others have lives. And sometimes asking about others’ lives helps you understand how you can help (or get out of the way). That said, everyone has struggles in their life from time to time, and learning how to cope with stress is important. If you or someone else in your organization is taking stress out on other people, consciously or not, it’s important to address the issue through coaching and other resources (wellness programs, etc.). Good mental and emotional health are critical to your family and work.
Communication is important, yes. But, so is getting the product (or service) out the door. Communication should not come at the expense of that, but rather complement it. Staff’s bandwidth ebbs and flows, and as such, so does readership, viewership and understanding of communications. You won’t get everyone’s attention all the time. And that’s OK. All the more reason for consistent, frequent and simple communications.
We’re sure Miss Communication will have another misstep in the future (hey, she’s just like us!), so be sure to check out our future blogposts.