There is a lot of talk about communication these days, but I’m not sure it is doing a lot of good. And doing good is what we are all about. This article will be the first in a short series on how we communicate. We hope it will be useful for your company or nonprofit.
Back when I was serving America as a soldier, I was part of the USASC — United States Army Signal Corp. There was a war going on (Isn’t there always?), and combat requires a lot of important communication. It is also a good idea to keep all that communication out of enemy hands. I went to school for a year to learn how to help with that last part.
No, I wasn’t a spy, I was a repairman. I worked on the machines that encrypted messages. Like all machines, those would sometimes fail. Unlike other machines, when these failed the consequences could be very, very bad. We worked hard to keep the machines in good shape and the messages secure.
The idea that my failure to do my job well might result in the loss of lives opened my mind to communication in new ways. Granted, I was not the one doing the communicating. I was not ordering troop movements, or air support. I was giving the people doing those things a way to get their message through. So when my buddies and I checked a machine, we checked it.
Our own internal communication at the base could have taken a lesson from the field. It wasn’t terrible, but like many companies today it wasn’t great.
Priorities and problems
At Do Good U we talk to and work with all kinds of companies, and we always help them evaluate internal communications. The smaller the company, the simpler communication is. But anyone who is or has been married can tell you that communication between even two people can be challenging. Get the employee number up to 10 and it is tougher. Once you get to 50, something changes and communication requires a lot more attention.
Every company we’ve talked to cares about communication. Every CEO and COO knows communication is important. At the same time every company knows theirs could probably be better. So what’s the problem?
One problem is that internal communication doesn’t seem to directly impact the bottom line. I’ve heard internal communication compared to company dress code, for instance. “Do you think how my staff dresses for work has any effect on our profit,” asked a company leader. It was supposed to be a rhetorical question and my answer was supposed to be no. It only took a little education to help that leader see things a little differently.
Unless you know how to measure it (we do) you may indeed find it difficult to relate internal communication to money. Time and money? Everyone gets that relationship. Talk and money? In fact it may have more of an impact on the bottom line than you can imagine. More even, than time.
Can’t talk now…
Another reason some companies fail to work on internal communication is just plain busyness. Every person at the company (not counting that guy in the basement) is busy.
Things have to get done, and talk just kind of gets in the way. We let people know, sometimes without even realizing it, that we really don’t have time to talk.
Here is an example that made me smile. I recently called on a company, using the phone to connect with someone I’d been referred to. After a few rings I realized it was going to voice mail, and I started mentally composing my message.
Sure enough the greeting came on, and almost immediately I started chuckling. The greeting was not supposed to be funny, but it was to me.
I’d guess the outgoing greeting contained about 20 words, but it only lasted about 5 seconds. Everything about the greeting, from the speed it was delivered to the word choices to the tone, said, “I’m important, I’m busy, and I really don’t have time for you. If you leave me a message it better be quick and efficient and not a waste of my time.” If I hadn’t been smiling, I would have been intimidated.
There are other ways we stifle communication, either consciously or subconsciously. Stifling communication can definitely hurt the bottom line.
A lot of people who talk about internal communication today, along with interpersonal communications, focus on listening skills. Trust me when I tell you that learning to listen to what other people are saying is very important. Listening is a great way to do good, and in a future post we’ll talk more about that.
The old saying that God gave you two ears and only one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk, is pretty good.
But if everyone is listening, then who is talking? Communication is a two-way street, and if traffic is only going in one direction the road is going to waste.
What I’m saying here is this: Someone has to be talking, and very few people out there are talking about talking. We are, because we know it’s critical.
Learning to talk — even learning to record a good voice mail greeting or leave a good voice mail message — is a big deal.
Choose your words wisely
There is a lot more to say about communication, about choosing words well, and about the value of excellent internal communication. When I say value, I’m talking about real money — millions of dollars in a single company — and real people.
For now I just want to refer back to the title of this article, You Don’t Say. Words you choose not to use (and this isn’t some woke advice) can be just as valuable as the words you do use. By learning not just to listen well, but also to talk effectively, you can do a great deal of good in your company.
Come back next week to learn more about communication in Speaking Up and Talking Down.