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Communications CHAPTER OVER VIEW One of the important human relations skills supervisors need is the ability to communicate effectively. The communication process occurs when people send and receive information. The process begins when someone encodes a message. The message is then transmitted either verbally or nonverbally. The receiver decodes and interprets the message. The message is shaped and filtered by personal experience, perceptions, and beliefs by both the sender and the receiver. Effective communication depends on a number of factors. The receiver can hear a message, or register sound in the brain, but not listen. Listening occurs when the person who hears sounds also pays attention and tries to understand. Effective communication is most likely to occur when the parties communicate from the receivers viewpoint, learn from feedback, use strategies for effective listening, and overcome barriers to communication. Barriers to communication include information overload, misunderstandings, perceptions and prejudices, and biases in paying attention to messages. Ways to avoid these barriers include encoding messages carefully and simply observing feedback, avoiding name-calling, being aware of inferences and prejudices, and phrasing messages to appeal to the receiver. Messages may be sent through a variety of ways. Verbal messages may be oral or written. Oral messages can be face-to-face or use an electronic device such as a telephone or voice mail. Oral messages have the advantage of including the additional information transmitted by tone of voice and phrasing of the message. Face-to-face and phone communications have the additional advantage of immediate feedback and provide the opportunity to ask questions to clarify meaning. Verbal messages are also transmitted in written form. Letters, memos, and reports take longer to encode and transmit, but they have the advantage of leaving a record for the file. This is important for taking disciplinary action and ordering materials. Written communications also reduce the potential misunderstanding of complex messages. Nonverbal messages include things like looks, gestures, body position, laughter. body position, and noises such as laughter The combination of verbal and nonverbal messages provides a clearer message than either type used separately. The effective managing of an organization requires that communication flows in all directions: upward, downward, and lateral. For supervisors, this means they will receive information from all directions and be responsible for sending messages in all directions. For example, they will receive directions and orders from their boss, and be responsible for sending information to their boss. They will also receive messages from their employees, and be responsible for informing and passing information to employees. Coordination of the organization takes cooperation among departments, which is accomplished by lateral communication. Organizations have both formal and informal channels of communication. Formal communication is work related. It usually follows the chain of command. Policies, procedures, and directives follow the formal communication lines. Informal communication is directed toward personal needs and interests. It is not necessarily work related. Informal communication includes gossip, rumors, and personal information. It is transmitted by the organization’s grapevine. The Process of Communication Key terms. 1. Communication: The process by which people send and receive information. – Information may include opinions, facts, or feelings. • The intended audience should be receiving and understanding the same message sent for communication to take place. Sending does not assure receiving. Receiving does not assure the message is the intended one. Talking or writing does not guarantee that communication will occur. 2. Noise: Anything that can distort a message by interfering with the communication process. Includes distractions such as having a headache, feeling too cold or too hot, sitting in an uncomfortable chair; ambiguous words; and worn equipment to transmit message. 3. Feedback: The way the receiver of a message responds to the message. Feedback may take the form of words or behavior. Failure to respond is also a feedback response. Communication is at the heart of the supervisor’s job. Supervisors must communicate in order to work with their boss, employees, and other supervisors by sending and receiving ideas, giving instructions, submitting progress reports, and processing many kinds of information. The successful communication process includes: The sender encodes, or thinks up and formulates the message. The sender then transmits or sends the encoded message by writing, speaking, or other personal contact. The intended audience receives the message. The message is decoded, or interpreted as intended. The sender encodes, or thinks up and formulates the message. The sender wants someone to know or do something. For this to happen, the sender first decides what it is he or she wants to pass along. These thoughts are translated into verbal and nonverbal messages. The specific words, expressions, and gestures depend on the sender’s knowledge and skills with the language and knowledge and understanding of the situation that directs the message. The encoding process may not be a recognized activity in all communications. The sender then transmits or sends the encoded message by writing, speaking, or other personal contact. Transmitting the message may include either written or spoken words or gestures. The intended audience receives the message. The receiver can hear the words, read lips, read the signing, hear the tone of voice, hear the emphasis on specific words, and see facial expressions and gestures. The message is decoded, or interpreted as intended. The message will be interpreted by the receiver. Interpretation depends on what the receiver has heard and previous experience, perceptions, biases, and so forth. Hearing and Listening The receiver must decode the message. Both the sender and the receiver have an active role in communication. If the receiver is not active, communication is not occurring. Hearing the message means that the brain is registering sound. Listening, in contrast, means paying attention to what is being said and trying to understand the message fully. Communicating Effectively Active Listening: Hearing what the speaker is saying, seeking to understand the facts and feelings the speaker is trying to convey, and stating what the listener understands that message to be. Effective communication is most likely to occur when the parties communicate from the receiver’s viewpoint, learn from feedback, use strategies for effective listening, and overcome barriers to communications. The Receiver’s Viewpoint Communicate from the receiver’s viewpoint. People do not share experiences, views, priorities, and interests Lack of shared experiences may lead to the intended audience ignoring or misunder- standing the message sent. If you want the receiver’s attention, interest, and understanding, you must communicate from his or her viewpoint. This means using a vocabulary the receiver will understand, referring to experiences shared with the receiver, and addressing the receiver’s interests. The supervisor should ask what the message means to himself or herself, and to the employee. The supervisor should try to imagine the message from the employee’s experience and interest. Learn from Feedback Feedback can help the supervisor communicate effectively. When a message is sent, a certain kind of response is usually expected. One type of response is what the receiver says or facial expressions. Another type of response comes from employees’ behavior later on. For Example When the supervisor says the lunch break is between 11:00 and 1:00, the employee may respond “OK,” shake his head “yes,” look puzzled at getting two hours for a one-hour lunch period, and return to the work station at 1:15. All of these are examples of possible feedback to the supervisor’s lunch break definition. A supervisor can clarify the message, or check for understanding, by asking questions. For example, the supervisor might ask when the employee is planning to take his or her lunch period. Use Strategies for Effective Listening Effective listening begins with the commitment to listen carefully. Supervisors should avoid assuming a message will be boring or irrelevant, and should listen carefully, trying to identify important information and tune out distractions. When an employee complains often about seemingly petty matters, the complaints may hide a broader concern the employee has not stated directly. If there is no time to listen when someone wants to talk, a time should be scheduled later to continue the conversation. The supervisor should be aware of the context of the comments, and the urgency or frustration an employee may display at the time. The employee may feel that the supervisor is not interested or is trying to put him or her off if the talk is to be continued later. Later may be too late if the employee makes a decision based on the comment. If the speaker uses words or phrases that stir an emotional reaction, control the emotions and don’t let them interfere with the understanding. The best response is to listen and acknowledge the emotions without agreeing or disagreeing. Ask questions that look for the facts underlying an emotional statement. A technique called active listening involves not only hearing what the speaker is saying, but also seeking to understand the facts and feelings of the speaker. Active listening can help supervisors understand employees’ situations, get them to take responsibility, and gain their cooperation. To communicate effectively, the supervisor must actively listen with genuine respect for employees and believe in their ability to take responsibility. Be Prepared for Cultural Differences Effective communications with limited people who have limited understanding of English may require sticking to simple and basic words, talking slowly and pronouncing words carefully, seeking feedback, learning about the communication styles used by people from different cultures and trying to match them when appropriate. Barriers to Communication Communications may fail because the sender fails to encode the message properly, the transmission is poor, or the receiver misinterprets the message. Some communications barriers include: Information overload Misunderstandings Word choices Cultural differences Inferences vs. facts Perceptions and prejuices Biases in paying attention Information overload People often respond to information overload by tuning out the message. To avoid this possibility, supervisors should give employees information only that will be useful to them. They should give information in an environment conducive to communicating an environment that has minimum distractions. Also, supervisors should be sure the employee is paying attention. Misunderstandings To avoid misunderstandings, messages should be simple. Supervisors should make sure that they understand what they are going to say before they create the message. When the supervisor is the receiver of a message, he or she needs to be careful to understand the true meaning of that message, asking questions about unclear points when necessary. The supervisor must also keep in mind that sometimes the sender prefers that the receiver not understand the message. The supervisor needs to recognize when people have reason to be intentionally vague or misleading. On those occasions, the supervisor should interpret messages with particular care. One of the times messages may be vague is when an organization is undergoing significant change. For example, the message may be that top management is keeping communication lines open. They want to take into consideration all detail and everyone will have a say. Unfortunately, the important decisions have already been made. But to keep the organization functioning, the sender has determined the message would be the best strategy for orderly operation. Word choices Make appropriate word choices when encoding the message. Choose simple words and avoid words that could be ambiguous. Avoid using words that attribute characteristics to another person. Instead, describe specific behaviors and your own feelings, such as, “That is the second time this week you’ve made that mistake. I get annoyed when I have to explain the same procedure more than once or twice.” Cultural differences The supervisor must be familiar with the communication styles of the various cultures of people with whom he or she works. Text examples include: (1) The Japanese. In Japan, harmony is a key value. The Japanese say “yes (hai, pronounced hi) as a way of signaling that they hear what the speaker is saying. Americans generally say “yes” to mean they agree with the speaker. (2) Women. Assertiveness in women is often viewed as aggressiveness so women tend to use a less assertive style of communication than men do. They tend to speak less and use phrases such as “Don’t you think?” Word choice is also a concern when dealing with cultural differences. Supervisors must seek to understand the communication style and meaning of their employees to reap the benefits and to avoid unnecessary conflict of a diverse work force. Inferences versus Facts Inference: A conclusion drawn from the facts available. It is an assumption made based on the facts on hand. An inference may be true or false. Inferences often go beyond the actual data. That is, a decision may be made or the the interpretation is generalized to a more complex situation from a very small amount of factual information Or the facts may be too skimpy to make a specific inference. For example, because you know several people with a specific habit or behavior does not mean that all people have the behavior. Perceptions and Prejudices Perceptions: The ways people see and interpret reality. Perceptions are filters that keep some information from getting in and make us supersensitive to other information. Prejudices: Broad generalizations about a category of people. Prejudices can have either a negative and positive influence, and both interfere with the ability to make sound decisions A positive prejudice may be called a halo effect. Based on experiences and values, the sender and receiver of a message make assump-tions about each other. When these perceptions are false, the message may get distorted. Prejudices are broad generalizations about a category of people. It is common, in our culture to attribute certain characteristics to women, African-Americans, Asians, blue-collar workers, and many other groups. In order to overcome communication barriers due to perceptions and prejudices, the supervisor must be aware of the assumptions made about people. Is the supervisor responding to what a person is saying or to his assumptions about that person or category of persons? Biases in Paying Attention People have biases about the sender or receiver of the message and about the message itself. People tend to pay more attention to a message that seems to serve their self-interest and to ignore messages that contradict their viewpoint. Nonverbal and Verbal Messages Verbal Message: A message that consists of words. Verbal messages can be spoken or written. Nonverbal Message: A message conveyed without using words. Nonverbal messages include such things as gestures, facial expressions, body position, and leaving the conversation. Many nonverbal messages are referred to as body language. Nonverbal messages The major types of nonverbal messages are: gestures, posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, and even silences. Nonverbal communications are culture- specific. A look or gesture will give a specific kind of message in one culture and an entirely different message in another culture. They will also have different meanings or interpretation depending on the gender of the person. Looking down for a woman in the Anglo-American culture may be interpreted as a sign of modesty; for a man, the behavior may be interpreted as a sign of dishonesty or guilt. In another culture, looking down may show a sign of respect. Failure to recognize different interpretations of nonverbal communications can lead to misunderstandings of supervisors or employees, or both. A supervisor needs to send nonverbal signals that communicate he or she is businesslike and professional. This is done by the way you sit or stand, the use of gestures such as open-hand gestures, and readily shaking hands to indicate enthusiasm and interest. Dressing conservatively signals that the supervisor commands respect and has self- control. Verbal messages Verbal messages are sent by speaking or by writing. Supervisors usually depend on oral communication. This type of communication gives the supervisor the opportunity to send and receive many nonverbal cues along with the verbal ones. Most oral communications occur face-to-face. They can also take place on the telephone, at meetings, and at formal presentations. Oral messages are best for sensitive issues. Sensitive discussions should be held in private to give both parties a chance to air their feelings. When there is anger or hostility, face-to-face communication allows for immediate feedback to diffuse the anger or clarify misconceptions. Speaking before a group is a type of communication that may be necessary, but stressful, for the supervisor. The following steps can help the supervisor prepare: (1) Learn about the audience. What are their values and interests and what do they already know about the topic? If you are unaware of this information before the presentation starts, spend the first few minutes talking with the audience about their interests, expectations, and knowledge base. (2) Start the presentation with a summary of the main points or the objective of the meeting. If the presentation is formal or includes people from areas outside the work unit, it may be useful to present a written outline of main points or objectives on a flip chart. (3) Have a clear plan for what to say. Use note cards or an outline. Avoid having a script that is read to the audience. It is much more effective to speak naturally to a group. (4) Finally, practice the speech until it is easy to deliver. It is useful to get feedback, if possible, from a mirror, tape recorder, video camera, or friend. Written Communications Written communications are often used in organizations. A written record may be useful to the organization and the supervisor. A written record is also useful as a follow-up to an important verbal message. For example, if you have agreed verbally to a purchase order, customer request, delivery date, or disciplinary action, a written message will reaffirm the agreement. Written messages are useful in communicating complex messages. A disadvantage of a written message is that it will take a relatively long time to prepare and deliver. A supervisor may be required to submit written reports. A report may be necessary to describe a department need or problem, to summanze a meeting, and to inform upper management about information learned on a business trip or other tasks performed by a supervisor. Reports should begin with a summary of the contents. Charts may be used to summarize data and to make a point through visual impact. For example, a line graph can be used to illustrate an increase in productivity following the purchase of new equipment Bulletin board messages can be used to reach a large number of people. These messages can include the need-to-know-type messages such as the overtime work schedule, safety advisories, and the nice-to-know-type messages the progress of a quality improvement team or the investigation of a new-equipment purchase. Bulletin boards can also be used to recognize employees and work team successes. A problem today for many supervisors is communicating in a workplace in which many employees do not have adequate reading skills, but are required to read work instructions, procedures, and other documentation. Some companies are teaching reading and other skills to their employees. Supervisors must be aware of potential problems when written information may not be understood by all employees. Supervisors need to be sure all employees have the information necessary to do a good job. Since people who have difficulty reading may be embarrassed by the problem, they may try to hide it. Supervisors need to be sensitive to the feelings of employees while trying to assure good quality and productivity of the department. Downward Communication: Organizational communication that involves sending a message to someone at a lower level on the organizational chart. The supervisor is receiving a downward communication when he or she receives instructions or an evaluation from the boss, or a message describing the company policy. The supervisor sends a downward communication when he or she discusses a problem with or instructs an employee. Upward Communication: Communication that involves sending a message to someone at a higher level on the organizational chart. A supervisor receives an upward communication when an employee asks a question or reports a problem. To be well informed and to benefit from employees’ creativity, the supervisor should encourage upward communication. One way to do this is to listen well, applying the strategies for effective listening. A suggestion box is a method used by some organizations as a way for employees to send messages up. Supervisors should be aware that suggestion boxes can be problematic. Employees who make suggestions have expectations of seeing their suggestions implemented. There must be resources devoted to the review and implementation of suggestions and feedback to the employees, or they will stop making suggestions. In some companies, for example General Motors Corporation, suggestions have been rewarded with a portion of the saving that results from the suggestion. When teamwork is expected, rewarding individuals for suggestions may undermine the team effort. Lateral Communication: Organizational communication that involves sending a message to a person at the same level on the organizational chart. Supervisors send and receive lateral communication when they discuss their needs with coworkers in other departments, coordinate their group’s work with that of other supervisors, and socialize with their peers at the company. Lateral communication is a way for new supervisors to learn the methods and expectations of their job, and to get help when problems arise. Why should a supervisor know about the directions of communication? Awareness will help a supervisor be sure that he or she is participating in communication in all directions. All directions of communication are necessary to keep all people informed and to keep work coordinated. Changes in companies today include reorganization and downsizing, which is taking out layers of management. One of the reasons for these changes is to increase flexibility and speed communications. The supervisor who is used to sending a message up the chain of command and waiting for an answer will find in the new reorganized company both faster communications and the responsibility for making more decisions formerly made at higher levels. Formal Communication: Organizational communication that is work-related and follows the lines of the organization chart. Formal communications are directed toward accomplishing the goals of the organization. Examples of formal communication from the supervisor to the employee include discussions of performance to help employees do higher- quality work, training on a new procedure that improves quality of service, and the distribution of production schedules to work teams. Formal communications are often related to the primary work of the organization and its employees. It includes policies and procedures, instructions and directions, requests for resources, work schedules, performance appraisals, and work summaries. These communications usually follow the chain of command. However, much of the communication in an organization is informal, such as personal discussions. Informal Communication: Organizational communication that is directed toward individuals’ needs and interests and does not necessarily follow formal lines of communication. Informal communications include both topics about work and personal interests. Work-related informal communications may be an attempt to get necessary information faster than the prescribed method. Much of the informal communication takes the form of gossip and rumors. Gossip is small talk about people. People use gossip as a way to indicate what behavior is acceptable and what behavior is not acceptable. Rumors are what people say among themselves to try to interpret and make sense out of what is happening. When there is an absence of facts about what is happening in an organization, especially during a time of change, rumors are spread in an effort to get at the facts. Rumors tend to circulate most during crises and conflicts and are often false. Supervisors should not participate in the spreading of gossip and rumors. As a member of management, the supervisor is expected to know and report the facts about company business. Guidelines for keeping rumors and gossip under control include: Do not share any personal information about other employees. Discuss matters concerning others only when they truly need to know. Keep company information to yourself until the organization makes an official announcement. Grapevine: The paths along which informal communication travels. The grapevine is important to supervisors because employees use it as a source of information. Thus, the supervisor must expect that employees sometimes have information before the supervisor has delivered it. Rumors spread by the grapevine and the information may be incorrect especially in times of crisis or conflict. Managers usually have no control over the grapevine. Steps the supervisor can take to ensure that some of the messages in the grapevine are positive and in line with the organization’s objectives include: a. Regularly use the tools of formal communication to inform employees of the organization’s version of events. b. Be open to discussion, becoming someone employees will turn to when they want a rumoi confirmed or denied. c. Use performance appraisal interviews as a time to listen to employees as well as give their information. d. Have a trusted employee act as a source of information about the messages traveling thc grapevine. e. When necessary, issue a formal response to a rumor in order to clear the air.
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