In a session this week a participant shared that he had missed some important communications from a Millennial client because the client was sending text messages to his landline. When they discovered the gap in communication the younger customer exclaimed, “You still have a land line?” For all the Millennials reading this post, a landline refers to the phone jack in your wall that provides a dedicated phone line into your home if you pay for it J. These types of generational miscommunications happen more often than we might care to admit. Sometimes they are funny, but occasionally they can cause a real barrier in working collaboratively with a colleague or customer.
Consider for a moment the vast array of communication mediums we have available to us. With so many options, we might think that it would be easier to make sure our messages get through to others and in many ways it is. If I call someone and I don’t reach them, I can leave a voice mail, or hang up and text them, or instant message them, or send them an email or connect with them on LinkedIn and send them a private message, or post on their Facebook page. Sometimes I communicate in multiple ways using a variety of mediums to ensure I reach that person…but sometimes, things fall through the cracks. My text message isn’t received or someone doesn’t listen to his or her voice mail or they are rarely on Facebook so they don’t see my message. Either way, it’s a communication failure and a gap has been created.
Three Common Communication Gaps
1. Email overload
Most of us receive far too many emails each day, even when those pesky spam messages have been eliminated. Some of us receive a few hundred messages a day. One of my clients has told me that if I want to reach him I should text him because he only skims his emails and responds to a few. There are far too many in his inbox to read and respond to daily. In a world of email overload, the risk of someone accidently deleting or not even seeing an email is high. If it’s important, but not urgent, consider going ‘old school’ and actually sending a hand written note. A leader in a recent session mentioned that when he receives a piece of mail from a prospective vendor he reads it versus deleting an email. It has made enough of an impact to cut through the clutter. Funny enough, another participant shared that when he needed his 10 year old daughter to drop off the mail in the mail box, she didn’t even know how to use it and wasn’t sure where to insert the letter. Obviously this isn’t a strategy you will always want to use, and may Millennials may never use it, but in some cases it can have a positive outcome. The goal should be to reduce the number of emails we send so that those that get through can receive the attention they deserve. Relying too heavily on email communication limits our ability to connect with others because there is already too much ‘noise’ that can distract them from your message.
2. Not Being Transparent
Transparency means being open, honest and forth coming with information and sharing the big picture details with all team members. A lack of transparency at any level in an organization can have negative consequences as the rumour mill usually kicks in to fill in the gaps in information. Gossip of any kind is dangerous to your communication effectiveness because it’s almost never based on facts. Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to how hot topics or contentious issues are communicated across the team / department / organization is a big mistake since it leaves the door open for misinformation to take root and sparks rumours and innuendos. Get ahead of any communication message you want to deliver, especially if you have to share bad news or information that may negatively impact a team or customer. Own the communication by being as open and transparent as possible and anticipate and answer questions before they are asked. It’s also important to lead by example and encourage employees to open up, both to you and to one another. Leaders need to urge employees to voice concerns and ask questions. This also requires that leaders be ready and willing to actively listen to employees’ feedback and make a concerted effort to address issues. Millennials are often quick to give suggestions and opinions so tap into that desire to contribute, however, don’t forget to solicit feedback from other generations who may be more reluctant to openly share. By maintaining clear lines of communication, leaders can build trust and increase engagement.
4. Overall lack of communication
According to a 2014 About.com survey, the top three reasons employees are dissatisfied with their jobs are all communication related: lack of direction from management (38%), poor overall communication (14%) and changes that are not well communicated (12%). This points to a serious issue in the way leaders are sharing information across the organization.
Considering that our total communication effectiveness is comprised of 3 things: what we say (the words we use) 7%; how we say what we say (our tone of voice) 38%; and non-verbal communication (our body language) 55%, even when we think we aren’t communicating our lack of communication sends a strong message through our body language and non-verbal cues regarding our feelings.
It is no surprise that employee and customer engagement can severely decrease if there isn’t regular, ongoing communication. This is particularly true for Millennials who are accustomed to and expect a free flow of ideas, dialogue and information. By embracing corporate social intranet platforms with features such as built-in chat functions, company updates, notifications and posting capabilities these can help improve internal communication, as employees are used to using similarly structured social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Using mobile apps and video conferencing to communicate with employees is a great way to engage remote / virtual teams and allows you to be as effective as possible through words, tone and body language without having a face to face meeting.
Be Open to Change
Effectively communicating with others requires that we communicate in the way the other person wishes to receive messages, not in the way we want to send them. This can be a challenge. If you have colleagues or customers who communicate using a new or different medium than you are accustomed to, it’s time to be open to the change and learn how. I know several Traditionalist grandparents who realized that the best way to stay connected with their grandkids is to text them rather than phone. By adapting their communication style, they have been able to increase their touch points and have more frequent communication. This doesn’t mean that Millennials or Gen Xers can stop calling their parents or grandparents, but it is a great example of how a slight shift can improve connection. What’s the next medium that we will use – Snapchat for corporate communication? Some organizations are already doing that. Check out how Reward Gateway are using this tool http://hubs.ly/H037ldb0
Maybe you will create a Pinterest board for what inspires your team members? Or maybe you will use one of the hundreds of apps and tools that exist, that I don’t even know about yet, that will help you collaborate and connect more. Either way, communication is the cornerstone of all relationships and by combining old and new mediums we can create the right mix that ensures fewer gaps and builds stronger connections….even if you don’t have a landline anymore.