Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are we Communicating?

“What we’ve got here…is failure to communicate.” The line is from the movie Cool Hand Luke and ranks number 11 among the phrases on the American Film Institutes’ list of top 100 movie quotes.

The movie features Paul Newman who plays the role of Luke, a non-conformist, anti-hero loner who defies authority and the establishment. His nemesis, the Captain, is played by Strother Martin who first delivers the famous line.

Luke has been returned to a chain gang that he was sentenced to prior to a brief and unsuccessful escape. The Captain is frustrated by Luke’s failure to understand the one-way nature of the communication he demands. He strikes Luke, sending him rolling down a hill.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Does this sound like your office? Effective communication is essential to the success of your organization and is a leadership trait that must be mastered. Here is what I call the four C’s of effective communication.

Be consistent. If the team receives mixed signals from the top levels of leadership, it breeds frustration down the line. When leadership comes across half-cocked, the perception, fair or not, is that they don’t have their act together. The team executing the organization’s vision needs to have confidence that all participants are operating off the same script.

Be concise. Tom Lehrer said, “I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.” Concise communication is most effective when it is precise and to the point. How many of you, like me, have been stuck in meetings where re-inventing the wheel was a favorite pastime? Leaders disrespect their teams’ time and resources when in meetings they chase down rabbits no one else cares about.

Be considerate. If your communication mentality resembles the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, then certainly there is failure to communicate, and you are the reason why. “To effectively communicate,” Anthony Robbins says, “we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to communicate with others.”

One of the most valuable asset you have as a leader is the diversity of your team. Considerate communication is inviting, receptive to new ideas, and values the contributions of team members.

Be creative. Someone once said, “When all other means of communication fail, try words.” Communication methods will vary according to need. At times email will be sufficient. At other times bringing the team together in the room is most productive.

Tired of that same old conference room? Why not try quarterly meetings away from the office? Take the team to a meeting room at a nice local restaurant or nearby State park. Placing your team in this environment stimulates fresh ideas, and builds morale.

Since the dawn of time, man has struggled to communicate. Rudolph Flesch said, “Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.” How many times have we held on to archaic ways of doing things simply because we thought that was the expected thing to do? Communication is the lifeblood of your organization, be bold and creative in your approach.

While the tools of communication have changed down through the centuries, the truth is, no amount of communication will ever be effective without trust. Trust is established through relationship and those two ingredients are the backbone for any organization.

Leadership expert John Maxwell said, “People listen not necessarily because of the truth being communicated in the message, but because of their respect for the speaker.” When a leader has the trust and respect of the team, effective communication becomes a reality.

Good communication is a reflection of your commitment to it. Don’t take it for granted, work hard at it, and reap the rewards.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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