This article is part of our efficiency series where we give our top tips on how you can identify the areas of inefficiency/waste and how to begin tackling them. Here we are going to focus on internal communication - the cost of getting it wrong and how you can improve your internal communication.
Internal communication is an important one to get right. Unclear communication or not communicating with the right people can be costly in terms of time, effort and reputation as even internal waste is passed onto our customers/clients.
The need for efficient internal communication has increased in the current climate. It means that communication requires more effort and attention than ever before. It is likely that moving online/to hybrid has impacted our communication in some way (e.g. more difficult to read body language and expressions, tone of voice, and spending less time communicating). Therefore, we must address our internal communication issues to maintain internal relationships and to avoid a breakdown in communication.
Types of communication:
We can communicate in a number of different ways.
- Verbal communication
- Body language
- Language (e.g. talking in absolutes)
- Written communication (do you have a set corporate writing style?)
The signs of miscommunication or bad communication:
- A high number of mistakes
- Low productivity
- Tasks being dropped or missed
- Lack of accountability and ownership (e.g. I thought you were doing it)
- Increased customer or client complaints
- Spreading of misinformation (e.g. staff start to talk amongst themselves and may share incomplete or untrue information)
- Employee relationships become weakened
- Increased delays and waiting resulting in increased costs
- No structure to how we communicate (when, frequency, platform)
- Reduced trust and confidence in leadership
- Feelings of favouritism or isolation
- Feelings of frustration
- Increased staff turnover
If these issues are not addressed, they will drain your time, cash, and morale - not to mention the impact on your culture. But, as with any type of inefficiency, once the issue of poor internal communication is identified, efforts can be made to rectify it.
The importance of listening:
Listening is a vital part of communication. If we are not listening properly, messages can easily become distorted. It is also something that we tend to think we are good at, but there are always things we can do to improve our listening skills:
- Eye contact - when someone is talking to you, put away the distractions, stop what you are doing, and turn to face them.
- Avoid judgement - we all make judgements constantly, both consciously and unconsciously because we use this to make decisions. But, when in conversation with someone, try to put these judgements to one side e.g. 'what they are saying is wrong' or 'I don't agree with that' as they can cloud our ability to really listen to the person's points.
- Paraphrase - when someone is saying something to you, repeat back what they have said. In doing this it shows the person that you have really listened and understood what they have said. It also allows you to clarify that you have heard what they have said. If you have misheard or misunderstood, this gives them the opportunity to explain a bit further and to deepen your understanding.
- Reflection of feeling - take into account the person's emotions and how they are feeling. If someone is displaying an emotion e.g. frustration, it may be useful to take them to one side and acknowledge they are feeling frustrated - and ask if they want to talk about it.
- Summarise - A good trick to ensure you have heard someone properly is to summarise what you think you heard back to them. The difference between paraphrasing and summarising is that you summarise the whole conversation instead of an element of it. A good tip here is to try to use the same words they did, to avoid the meaning of their message being lost. You can also ask someone to summarise what you have said back to you, to ensure they were listening to you. This is a good way to ensure you have heard and understood each other, and gives the opportunity to correct anything they may have misheard, and to ask any clarifying questions that may be needed.
- Listen to understand, rather than to respond!
Asking the right questions:
Questions are a useful way to get to the root of things quickly and efficiently, and to increase the value of the information you are gathering.
It is a skill that can be developed through a bit of trial and error. As you may know, there are different types of questions and using the right one at the right time can be powerful, but too many or using the wrong type of questions can make it feel more like an interrogation and cause them to close off to you - not good!
So, what are the different types of questions?
- Direct - asking someone a question directly. This can be useful in a group setting if there is someone who has not yet contributed to the discussion or seem to be confused or uncomfortable. It brings them into the conversation. It can be done in a gentle way as you value their opinion, rather than calling them out or putting them on the spot.
- Indirect - posing a question to the group. Here, you may want to know everyone's opinion on a topic so you open up the question to everyone.
- Yes/No - closed questions with an answer of yes or no. e.g. 'does that make sense?'. It is a good way to get a quick answer.
- Leading - when you want to direct the conversation down a particular route. Perhaps you want to gain more information around a particular topic.
- Reflective - to get people to think more deeply about an answer to a question and to give you more information.
- Attitude - emotion and feelings. e.g. 'how did that make you feel?'
Why not try incorporating some of these questions into your next conversation?
A tool to help:
RACI is a useful tool, especially on projects to make sure that the right people are included and the wrong people are excluded. Again, this saves time as only people that are needed are in meetings.
- Responsible for: which people are responsible for carrying out the task.
- Accountable for: the person accountable for the completion of the task. They can delegate responsibilities but are ultimately accountable. Remember, only one person can be accountable for a task.
- Consulted on: the people that are consulted before and during the task - offering advice but not directly involved.
- Informed about: those that are reported to about the progress of the project/task.
Final thoughts and summary
Meetings are where we can spend a lot of our time communicating with one another. Therefore, knowing how to hold effective meetings is vital to ensure we are spending our time together in the best way.
Finally, effective delegation can be a great way to make things more efficient to lift leaders out of the day to day and able to focus on the more strategic, reduces bottlenecks and therefore time waiting for people internally and for clients.
Overall, we can all be better at communicating! Sometimes it is just knowing where to start. If we can get our internal communication right we can increase our efficiency throughout the business.
Are your listening skills up to scratch? Why not take our diagnostic to find out? It only takes 5 minutes to complete and it is a great place to start.