When it comes to communication, says manufacturing consultant Rebecca Morgan, simplifly, simplify, simplify.
In the first grade we’re taught there are no stupid questions.
But if we didn’t listen to that advice then, says consultant Rebecca Morgan, what makes us believe we’ll heed that advice as adults in the work environment?
“We have Dilbert cartoons about this and we laugh about it,” says Morgan, president of Fulcrum Consulting Works Inc., a Cleveland-based manufacturing consultancy. “But if you come into my office and give me an assignment [that’s not communicated effectively], it’s not funny anymore.”
Morgan recently advised Moen Inc. on how to smooth out its operations by assisting management in better getting its message across, internally and externally. Executives realized their “language” — heavily peppered with acronyms — was often Moen-specific; This “common language problem,” Morgan says, hindered effective and efficient external communications.
“We believe that what is intuitive to us is also intuitive to others,” Morgan says. “And then we find it disappointing when others don’t see things the way that we see them, so we are afraid to ask them questions so not to come off as stupid.”
WHO ARE THE WORST COMMUNICATORS, BIG CORPORATE ENTITIES OR ENTREPRENEURIAL BUSINESSES? “They are all very vulnerable.
“Small companies with less sophisticated training tend to have more difficulty because they don’t realize that within a particular profession is a particular language. For example, for a doctor, cancer is cancer wherever you go. To a small company without formal training, there is a formal vocabulary [used to communicate]and they have no idea that there is this other vocabulary.
“At a large company, there’s at least the awareness that this is an internal language [for business]. Big companies may know they’re talking their own language, but they can’t remember what the right language is. Small companies often don’t realize there is a right language.”
WHAT SHOULD MANAGERS LOOK FOR IFTHEY SUSPECT THERE ARE COMMON LANGUAGE PROBLEMS IN THEIR COMPANIES? “ Managers should assume that these problems already exist within their organizations or departments.
“Managers need to encourage workers to tackle this problem head on and ask for clarification to make sure that they understand what people are saying. Clarity of communications is what’s important here. We may be on different pages and don’t even know it. It’s a mistake that can be expensive and time consuming for companies.”
WHAT ONE SIMPLE CHANGE CAN ALLEVIATE MUCH OF THISCONFUSION? “Encourage a culture of explaining acronyms the first time they’re used. We really need to confirm with others what we’re talking about. However, we’re forced to make assumptions out of our conversations. We need to change the culture of our organizations to encourage asking others for clarification and not penalizing [for asking those questions].”
OFTEN, COMPANIES QUICKLY ASSIMILATE NEW EMPLOYEES INTO THEIR CULTURE. YET YOU SUGGEST NEW EMPLOYEES ARE MORE VALUABLE TO A GROUP UNASSIMILATED. WHY? “When someone joins a company or moves from department to department, the coded style of communication is totally new to that person. Tenured employees take for granted and believe that everyone on Earth knows [their lingo], but a new employee doesn’t.
“It’s a new opportunity for us to ask [these new employees] when are we speaking English and when are we not. … Most employees, especially new ones, don’t want to look stupid, so they don’t ask questions. They just wander around confused.”
SHOULD WE HAVE A MORATORIUM ON NEW ACRONYMS? “And all we have to do is come up with a three-letter acronym for that. …
“I don’t think there’s any chance of slowing down the changes in business vocabulary. But there is an opportunity to slow down how we communicate in taking the time to make sure people are understanding.” — MICHAEL ZAWACKI