Speaking out

Strong communication key to successful career

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2006

Good communication is a vital part of any relationship, and work relationships are no exception. Many obstacles to proper communication exist in the workplace, be they poor training or personality differences. Whatever the impediment, it's important for co-workers to understand that workplace communication should be a two-way flow between employees and managers.

Paul Krivonos, professor of management communication studies at California State University-Northridge, says it's often what we don't say that causes problems.

"In terms of motivation, people can become more de-motivated or willing to do just the bare minimum to get by," he says of managers with poor communication skills. "An open kind of communication climate is important in creating a good working atmosphere. If you set up a negative climate, people won't trust you and you won't get the kind of info you need to make a good decision."

Establishing an "open communication climate" simply means that the boss or supervisor of a department is open to hearing input from others; everyone can feel free to discuss their feelings on certain matters and make changes to things that affect them.

Working through problems

Unfortunately, many people know someone at the opposite end of that spectrum all too well. Bosses who have a superior attitude and are not tolerant of other ideas create a negative working atmosphere, says Krivonos.

"Sometimes we get so caught up in our job and what we're doing that we ignore the people around us," he explains. "We get caught up in sending messages that you don't count or you do count."

Krivonos admits he has a tendency to work on his computer while on the phone with others and sometimes misses everything that has been said. This, he says, makes others feel as if they don't count.

"I had a student once tell me, 'Nobody cares how much you know unless they know how much you care,'" he says. "One of the things I do when someone comes into my office when I'm working is stop what I'm doing, look up for at least 10 seconds and say, 'I don't have time right now. When can we meet to talk about this?' "

Talk it out

Granted, we all can't be great communicators. Some people are naturally introverted and prefer to keep to themselves. However, it's necessary for these personality types to modify their habits at work so others don't perceive them negatively.

"Some people are apprehensive about group communications," Krivonos adds. "Those people are perceived rather than shy and apprehensive, they're seen as aloof and unfriendly."

That's why shy personality types should make an extra effort to let their co-workers know what the issue really is. Doing so can prevent unwanted friction or animosity.

"It's a risk and you have to take baby steps rather than take a big step and get shot down and say, 'Oh no, I can't do it,'" he says. "There are some popular accessible text books that have applied perspective exercises. You do it in a less threatening situation, then build up to a friend or co-worker, so the risk is not so great that you give up and can't go back and try it again."

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