Messages Between Departments Have Been Misunderstood Management
A client of yours who is a department head laments that messages between departments have been misunderstood, causing work delay and replication of efforts. This has led to a lack of co-operation between the two departments whose staff comes from different backgrounds and your client feels it is the result of communication problems.
You agree with his assessment and now deem it fit to advise him on the barriers of effective workplace communication and how to overcome some of these barriers.
Communication is the process where information is exchanged between or among individuals; it can be expressed through speech, expression, signs, feeling, writing, and behaviour. Communication can be in a form of instruction or command, encouragement and motivation, providing information, and expressing sympathy or empathy.
Communication has been defined by Mills A. J. (2007, p. 361) in behavioural terms, "according to this perspective, communication is a symbolic process in which individuals act to exchange perceptions and, ultimately, to build the knowledge bank for themselves, and for others, for the purpose of shaping future actions".
Figure 1 shows the communication process where the sender conveys a message to the receiver. The sender will encode the message through behaviour and gestures then sent via a message channel such as emails, written or through conversation. The receiver will then need to decode the message and translate into information. Within this process there will be noise which can be any factor that disturbs, confuses or interferes with the communication.
Figure 1: The Communication Process
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Organizational communication is an important factor that holds the structures of the organization together in moving towards the organizational goals. Having good communication between the staff members and building strong inter-department relationship plays an important part to build effective organizational communication. When there the organizational communication is less effective, it may cause the organization to be less effective than they might be. Thus the organizational communication is a factor that the organization should not neglect.
According to Ivancevich and Matteson (1999, p. 476), "Communication assists organizational members to accomplish both individual and organizational goals, implement and respond to organizational change, coordinate organizational activities, and engage in virtually all organizationally relevant behaviours".
Poor organizational communication can lead to ineffectiveness as the messages between departments have been misunderstood, causing work delay and replication of efforts. Such lack of co-operation can be due to the different background culture resulting of the communication breakdown. Following we will look into the different types of communication barriers that can be a cause of such communication problems.Communication barriers
As discussed in the introduction, if noise exists in the elements of communication as the sender encodes and the receiver decodes the message, the complete clarity of meaning and understanding of the message will not be received by the receiver. Such noise can also be known as communication barriers. Some types of communication barriers are language, frame of reference, selective listening, physical barrier, perceptual barrier, and emotions.Language
Different words or phrasing of sentences can have different meanings to different people. Thus individuals with poor command of language will have increase difficulties in encoding and decoding the correct message. The pronunciation of the words can also differ for people with different cultural backgrounds. Such as people from the Philippines may pronounce the word "back" as "buck" which can cause some confusion when interpreting.Frame of reference
According to Ivancevich and Matteson (2002, p. 506), "different individuals can interpret the same communication differently depending on their previous experiences". This affects the way people process and interprets information, resulting in unintentional distortion in communication.Selective listening
Ivancevich and Matteson (2002, p. 507) had described selective listening as "a form of selective perception in which we tend to block out new information, especially if it conflicts with what we believe". Listening to the complete message with understanding reduces defensiveness and improves accuracy in perceiving a message.Physical barrier
Physical barriers include working areas that physically separate certain departments from others. These includes closed doors or separate dining / working areas, causing a sense of detachment between individuals. Thus it is always important to ensure that the office layout promotes easy communication between staff.Perceptual barrier
Perceptual barriers can be due to the difference in upbringing, education and culture. And being human, we perceive the motives and intentions of others, therefore resulting in consciously and sub-consciously choose to filter and concentrate on certain information, where we then choose how to respond to it.
Difference in culture background usually has difficulties in communicating with people of another culture background. According to Mills A. J. (2007, p. 377), "Cultures differ in their verbal (and non-verbal) languages, and, consequently, cultural diversity can strain organizational communication". However, a culturally diverse workforce has the potential to improve organizational effectiveness, through improved decision making, creativity, and innovation.Emotions
The emotions of the receiver can influence how the receiver interprets a message. When the receiver is in a very emotional state of mind, the message can be misread that the sender is being sarcastic, offensive, and with verbal attacks where the receiver may become overly judgemental and questioning others' motives. Such problems can occur when the receiver is highly emotional and is unable to control his / her thinking clearly during times of feeling upset.Overcoming communication barriers
In Singapore, where many people of different cultures gather here, it makes it easier to communicate with one another successfully, as the exposure to different cultures is much higher comparing to many other countries. In order for people of different cultures to communicate better, the individuals have to familiarize themselves with the significant culture differences, and the individuals will have to lay aside ethnocentrism tendencies. Following shows some methods in overcoming the communication barriers and to build effective communication between individuals.Select words carefully
This can be done by avoiding ambiguous words and using simplified language, such as speaking or writing in simple English to build better understanding. The age, education, and cultural background of an individual can influence the language used and definition given to the words or sentences.Give feedback
By using verbal and non verbal feedbacks, it allows the sender to know if the information is correctly transmitted and understood. Feedbacks are a form of acknowledgement that the message is correctly being interpreted. It can be just a simple nod of the head and a smile to let the sender know that the interpretation of message is correct.Create an atmosphere of trust
Managers must encourage open and frank communication which once started from the top; the middle and lower level will then follow and practise the same code of communication. It will also be a good practise to ensure that status differences are not apparent in a way the message is being sent.Use multiple channels
In certain situations, more than one medium is necessary to ensure that the message is being interpreted correctly without giving any possibilities of misunderstanding from occurring. An example is that minutes will be taken during the meeting and disseminated to relevant individuals to ensure that they share the same understanding. Through the minutes of meeting, it also ensures that the duties passed to the individuals will be followed up respectively as well.Listen actively
In order to interpret a message correctly, the receiver will have to have full concentration in listening (verbally or non-verbally) to the whole message. This will help to avoid premature judgements which can lead to conflicts and misunderstanding.
In order to ensure that the message put across is interpreted correctly, the sender can also make use of repetitions to make their point understood. According to Ivancevich and Matteson (1999, p. 491), "repetition is an accepted principle of learning. Introducing repetition or redundancy into communication ensures that if one part of the message is not understood, other parts will carry the same message".Constrain emotions
One must learn to hold their emotions during the point of communication to avoid "jumping to conclusions". Thus a manager should refrain from communicating with a person in an emotional state of mind, especially on topics (such as performance appraisal) that can be highly sensitive.
Senders must also ensure that their messages are given at an appropriate time and place. An example is that warnings are usually given discreetly in an office, so as to avoid awkwardness for the receiving party.Ensure message is not overloaded
When a piece of message contains too much information, individuals will tend to select out, ignore, pass over, or forget information. Messages should be clear, concise and does not contain too much information leading to information overload. Such as using bullet points or numbering to highlight the important points to note.Message must be planned
The sender of the message should organize his thoughts and ideas before sending his message. Sender need to craft a message that is clear, concise and complete, hence time must be spend planning it. The sender will also need to consider the types of medium in conveying the message across to the receiver.Conclusion
As we discussed the several common communication barriers and several means to improve communication. We realised that managers must be effective at both, to understand as well as be understood. From the above methods to overcome communication barriers, the organization may like to consider coordinating some events, such as team building courses, to help individuals understand one another better with a personal touch and to build stronger ties between individuals of all departments in the organization.
According to Ivancevich and Matteson (1999, p. 481), "often overlooked in the design of most organizations is provision for horizontal communication". Such form of communication is communication between two individuals of the same level in different department. An example is the accounts manager communicates with the marketing manager. Such communication is very common in an organization but had often been overlooked. Thus individuals of different departments should also be arranged to meet up through workshops or courses to them know one another better which can be effective in their communication.
Robbins S.P. and Coulter M. (2007, p. 253) shared on how some test and theories on team communication can help in the organizational communications, "In organizations, teams may be deliberately put together with the differences in mind, as long as the combination of these different skills contributes positively to the end result. There are various well-known role-definition theories and testing methods that identify these differences, such as role definition by Meredith Belbin and his associates, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), both of which can be used by managers in their efforts to communicate successfully."
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