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Keeping Your Team Informed

“He is an eloquent man who can treat humble subjects with delicacy, lofty things impressively, and moderate things temperately.” Cicero

Real communication is impossible without listening.”

Ralph C. Smedley, Founder of Toastmasters

Ever get the impression that Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert,” actually worked in your office? Ever see yourself as one of the many crazy characters? “Dilbert” invariably finds himself in a quandary involving miscommunication. No one in that hilarious comic strip is on the same page, let alone planet.

Frequent communication, both formal and informal, is vital to the health of your team. It is one thing to discuss “mission-centric” information throughout the day. Those ad hoc talks are part of the fabric of getting the job done, and compliment other leadership principles, like ensuring the task is understood.

There are four formal purposes to communicate, both direct and subtle, and they should not be taken lightly. How each is handled will ensure your control of the message.

But we should start with two foundations of communicating information.

The first foundation: always endeavor to tell your people the “why.” All of us can be automatons and follow orders, but even some orders are not worth the paycheck. If you recall the history of Germany in the 1930’s you will get the general idea. Knowing “why” a given task or mission or message is made will protect and reinforce the collaborative nature of what your business’s overall legitimate purpose is meant to be.

The second foundation: do not tolerate gossip, no matter how small or idle. Cut it off. If a legitimate question is brought to your attention, promise to chase it down, and follow up with the person who initiated it. But do not tolerate nonsense, ever.

Now, the purposes of company communication...

The first purpose to communicate is the company mandate. Organizations large and small will have announcements that require a uniform message. The company communication may be part of a series of messages that will take the organization in a different direction. Leave time for questions, even if it is only a change in footwear standards. Do treat the message with respect.

The second: annual required human resource or compliance training, is inescapable in today’s business environment. This should be presented with the gravity it is intended by the hierarchy, and is not an opportunity to do your nightclub act. Keep it straight. Someone in the room could be offended by only a smirk. (More on the low standards of "offensiveness" in a later post)

Both of the above should not be delegated, unless you believe the message is benign. In that instance, give the job to someone whose public speaking could use the practice under your watchful eye. You will know when the time is right. If in doubt, do it yourself.

Conversely, your boss may be the person who normally does these types of presentations. Volunteer to take the job off her hands. Any chance you have to stand out and speak publicly should be taken.

The third purpose is both direct and subtle: the current event. It is a cold atmosphere where you cannot muster a group together for a moment of silence on the anniversary of 9/11. One minute, and thank the group. It displays your humanity, and keeps the team connected to the outside world. There are other events to commemorate based on time of year or geography or local history, and through your interaction with the group day in and day out you will know what is right and when to do it.

An awful recurrence in today's cultural minefield is the mass shooting, whether at work or in normally safe places. Company policy must control, but if there is a personal attachment, recognize it. This not the time to opine on the politics of the Second Amendment. Like most opinions, these political argument are not black and white, and creating tension when calm and vigilance is required helps nothing. Exercise good judgment and restraint.

The last purpose is “tribal”: birthdays, milestones, or news involving a team member. Be consistent. True, we like some people more than others, but avoid the big splash for Suzie and only a hearty handshake for Sam. Be sensitive but not overly sentimental, and do it yourself. You and your people will still have deadlines to meet, customers to court, and life will go on.

Do not forget that for every message, no matter the origin, the receiver will be thinking “how will this impact me?” Try to slip in an answer before the question is asked.

We all remember bosses with quirks. One I recall ended each and every group meeting, no matter the subject, after exhausting any doubt about the meaning of the talk, by standing and stating, “Back to the salt mine.”

And everyone understood that for what it meant, and we laughed, every time.

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