What We Have Here Is A Failure to Communicate

BKBG Business Blog,

Buzz readers who are a bit more senior or fans of older movies may remember the famous line in Cool Hand Luke where a prison guard tells a rebellious, sarcastic inmate played by Paul Newman, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  The inability to get a message across is not confined to movies.  It occurs every day in showrooms and other businesses.  

Executive coach Sara Sabin claims there are common mistakes that owners and managers make that garble messages and the ability to communicate effectively.  The first is overcomplicating the message in order to sound smarter.  Sabin found that many managers doubt their abilities.  Referred to as imposter syndrome, this doubt disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their success.  When you overcomplicate a message, you create confusion and doubt that causes your target audience to fill in gaps with gossip, no information or misinformation.

Another key to communicating effectively is structure. Determine the main takeaways you want to convey and focus your message on those key points.  Use simple, easy-to-understand words and short sentences that eliminate the possibility of someone not understanding your message.

Tell them, tell them again and then repeat what you just said.  Don’t assume that if you communicate a message that it will be automatically understood.  Frequency matters because often your team members will have different understandings of what you are saying.  Frequency is especially important when communicating strategy, goals or other important messages.   Some marketing experts believe that a message needs to be communicated at least 7 times before consumers will act.  The same principle can apply to your most important messages.

There is often a gap between what is said and what is heard.  For that reason, owners and managers need to be proactive to ensure that the intent of an important message is understood. A simple technique is to ask the listener to repeat what they have heard and their expectations and action items.

Variety is the spice of life and a key to effective communication.  Some people are visual learners.  Others learn more effectively through reading and a third group may find that face-to-face interactions is the best source of conveying and receiving messages.  A Harvard study found that managers who used multiple communication mediums multiple times completed projects more smoothly and on time than managers who did not.

Lack of empathy also contributes to ineffective communication especially when you are discussing a difficult or controversial topic.  In those situations, Sabin advises owners to ask themselves, how would I feel receiving this message?  What actions would I want the showroom owner to take?  Team members will be more receptive to messages if they are delivered in a way that recognizes how the message will affect them personally.  If you are empathetic, your team will be more likely to listen carefully to your message and be more receptive to your point of view.  

The key to employee engagement, customer loyalty and showroom success is the ability to effectively communicate your brand messages.  Avoid overcomplicating your communication, have a structure, frequency and variety to your messaging, being proactive to assure your message is heard correctly and employing empathy when you communicate, will help assure that you don’t fail to communicate.