In most vital organizations, there is a common bond of interdependence, mutual interest, interlocking contributions, and simple joy. Part of the art of leadership is to see that this common bond is maintained and strengthened, a task certainly requiring good communication. Just as any relationship requires honest and open communication to stay healthy, so the relationships within cooperations improve when information is shared accurately and freely.
The best way to communicate the basis of a cooperation's or institution's common bonds and values is through behavior. Communication through behavior happens all the time. With large organizations spread out all over the world, we must have additional ways to communicate besides behavior, especially to communicate intangible and crucial and fragile information to widespread groups of people.
What is good communication? What does it accomplish? It is a prerequisite for teaching and learning. It is the way people can bridge the gaps formed by a growing company, stay in touch, build trust, ask for help, monitor performance, and share their vision. Communication clarifies the vision of participative ownership as a way of building relationships within and without the cooperation.
Good communication is not simply sending and receiving. Nor is good communication simply a mechanical exchange of data. No matter how good the communication, if no one listens all is lost. The best communication forces you to listen.
At the root, communication and one of its forms, language, are commitments to a convention, a culture. Dishonest or careless communication tells us as much about the people involved as it does about anything else. Communication is an ethical question. Good communication means a respect for individuals.
The real challenge is to make good communication a handy and well-used tool. Then you are likely to pick it up and use it without thinking.
Our grandson once locked himself in the bathroom. Despite his mother's best efforts to get the door open, she failed. She called in the police, who also failed to open the door. (All the while, our grandson kept reaching under the door to touch his mother's hand. Talk about good communication!) Finally his mother called the fire department. By the time the fire trucks arrived, there was quite a scene on the front lawn. The firemen promptly broke down the door with their axes, tools they certainly know how to use.
When our son Chuck arrived, at the height of the suspense, he could not quite figure out what was happening. There was no fire or smoke, but his bathroom door and its frame were in shambles.
At the office the next day, he was complaining to a colleague about the damage. The colleague observed that there might be a management lesson in the story. "A fireman has two tools, an axe and a hose. If you call him, you're going to get one."
Everybody is more likely to use familiar trusted tools. Among a leader's most trusted and familiar tools are communication skills. Whether or not we use them well is another question, and like the fireman's axe, skillful communication comes with obligations.
A number of obligations go along with good communication. We must understand that access to pertinent information is essential to getting a job done. The right to know is basic. Moreover, it is better to err on the side of sharing too much information than rick leaving someone in the dark. Information is power, but it is pointless power if hoarded. Power must be shared for an organization or a relationship to work.
Everyone has a right to, and an obligation for, simplicity and clarity, through truth is sometimes a real constraint, and courtesy inconvenient. But make no mistake--these are the qualities that allow communication to educate and liberate us.
We are obligated to do with several things:a respect for the English language, an acknowledgment that muddy language usually means muddy thinking and that our audience may need something special from us. The art of scrutiny will uncover what I call "third-class mail," missives without meaning. Junk mail serves no more purpose in corporate setting than it does in our homes.
If we think of good communication as a tool and remember these obligations, we can avail ourselves of a way to expand our work and our lives. Tools do something. And so does communication. Communication performs two functions, described by two "action-prone" words: educate and liberate.
"Educate" comes from two Latin words that mean "lead" or "draw out." Good communication draws out of us an awareness of the meaning of working together. We cannot do good research and development, we cannot make decisions, we cannot get orders--we simply cannot do business without learning what we expect from each other.
Teaching and learning underlie business literacy and action. Business literacy is the "why" of what cooperations do, and the action is the "what" they do.
How else does communication educate us? Good communication can educate us to the realities of our economy and the need for our performance within that economy. Only through good communication can we learn the needs and demands of our customers.
Only through good communication can we convey and preserve a common corporate vision. Communication can sharpen, embody, and help enact that vision. We all understand that in our family and corporate lives the absence of comment and question and response and opinion is a powerful communication. These are just a few examples of how good communication can educate us.
Good communication liberates us to do our jobs better. It is as simple s that. Good corporate communication allows us to respond to the demands placed on us and to carry out our responsibilities. This really means, too, that leaders can use communication to free the people they lead. To liberate people, communication must be based on logic, compassion, and sound reasoning.
This rationality extends to the system of words and signs that a company and its customers adopt together. Good, lucid communication means commitment to the same symbols of good work and success. Plato said that a society cultivates whatever is honored there. Let us make no mistake about what we honor. If these symbols are understood, we can and do enable each other.
As a culture or a cooperation grows older and more complex, the communications naturally and inevitably become more sophisticated and crucial. An increasingly large part that communication plays in expanding cultures is to pass along values to new members and reaffirm those values to old hands.
A cooperation's values are it's life's blood. Without effective communication, actively practiced, without the art of scrutiny, those values will disappear in a sea of trivial memos and impertinent reports.
There may be no single thing more important in our efforts to achieve meaningful work and fulfilling relationships than to learn and practice the art of communication.