Consider for example, an e-mail asking for some information “yesterday” to stress how important this request is. The sender thinks e-mails are great as they travel at the speed of light and spell things out in black & white. The recipient may consider that if its in a e-mail then it can’t be that urgent because servers can loose, misdirect or delay an e-mails transmission. They may also consider that as the information was wanted “yesterday” its already too late to be effectively utilised. Both parties saw the same communiquÃ©, neither read the same message. Each will blame the other for failing to communicate properly and conflict may result. E-mail flame wars are a high tech twist on whispering campaigns. And like the system of claims & loyalties in a feudal states the smallest e-mail spat can spiral out of control with careless use of the C.C. and B.C.C functions.
Drucker 1977says that there are four fundamentals of communication:
communication is perception of the recipient not the utterance of the instigator
communication is expectation in that recipients will heed only what they are expecting to hear
communication makes demands of the recipient that they become someone, do or believe something
communication and information are different and largely opposite – yet interdependent
Employees need to know a number of things such as what is expected of them, how they are performing and how can they advance. If these are not communicated, on a regular basis, then role or expectation conflict will develop and motivation decline as the employee is berated for failing to meet the goals their superiors assigned them.
But if this is all the communication they receive they may begin to feel like machines. According to Pearson & Thomas there are three levels of communication that employees need, these being: Must know discussed above. Should know which includes significant staff changes and company/market developments. Then could know which although having no operational impact makes life more interesting. Office gossip is only a could know but probably the communication that really binds a company together. Barring security, legal and share price sensitive data everyone should be able to find out anything. Those who can’t access what they need or interests them will resent it.
The corporate magazine is often viewed from the shop floor as a self agrandment vehicle containing company propaganda and staff often resent the money that goes into its publication. Higher management consider it a morale boosting tool. Contentious issues are never covered or answered with the ambiguity of a politician. Real information about a company will appear in the financial press and be reflected in the companies share price. Towsend likens reading the house magazine to “going down in warm maple syrup” and recommends using the money saved to go into employee share plans.
Having seen the conflict and drain in resources that poor communication entails what can a company do about it. Typically communications problems result in one of three things being tried either policies, re-organisation or team building exercises. All of which attempt to create new paths for communication to follow
Dawson-Sheperd and White 1994 cite a report produced by the Institute of Directors which suggested that of those companies with employee communications policies, 65.1% credited them with improving productivity, 68.1% with fewer industrial disputes and 80.3% with improvements in loyalty.
When reorganising companies have to decide between two types of departmental organisation. One of grouping the same function together. The other of mixing the functions according to what information they need to function. Are, say, actuaries in a financial services company pooled centrally or located out with the departments they support. Do the high level mangers share a single office floor so that they are accessible to each other or sit where they can practice management by walking about on a daily basis & be accessible by the staff they manage . Each choice will determine the kind and content of communication that occurs.
Grouping by function will create cliques based on profession. Between cliques there will be ignorance of each others modus operandi and working pressures which creates interdepartmental friction as each can only see their set of priories. Not grouping by function means that levels of specialist knowledge will take longer to increase and cause dissatisfaction in professionals and knowledge workers.
Team building works on the principle of “put them through hell and they will end up working together”. For many employees they are already doing this five days a week and its not working. Then the teams, for these events, are always constructed wrongly either all managers – who will be seen to be “out on a jolly” – or all members of the same department. Team building should be used to create unofficial links between departments to contrast & compliment the designed communication flow built in to the company structure.
People do not like being kept in the dark or working for a despot. Decrees without adequate explanations will be resented even if they make perfect sense. The salesman’s formula of “feature that produces this result which then gives you this benefit” needs to be used to manage the expectation & perception of the recipients. However in trying to talk shop a manager may misdirect staff as they read a greater meaning into his casual comments.
Better communication will allow employees and departments to take or contribute information on what may appear at first to be an unrelated subject which when viewed with their specialist knowledge does in fact encroach on a different functional area. This will lower conflict where one party feels that their domain is being encroached upon without any consultation
Even the most perfect communication systems will not remove conflict. Indeed it may initially increase conflict as bad news finds a way to filter upwards without the massaging and censoring that intervening layers of management apply. Employees armed with facts or copies of company procedures may come as a shock to those operating sharp management practices. According to Kreitner, Kinicki & Buelens 54% of managers use information as a tool in office politics and that’s just those who play by the conventions and don’t engage in politicking.
Total information and understanding, if it could ever be achieved, will not eliminate conflict. Each employee is pursuing their own goals and conflict will not arise for only as long as theirs and corporate goals align. Departments are in competition for resources and brownie points with higher management. Employees desire increased remuneration, more interesting work and the company only has so much of each to share out.
To remove conflict from a company it would have to employ mangers who were all “yes-men”. These would have either no original opinions or be sufficiently unprofessional as to let even the most flawed decision or idea be implemented. This kind of organisation will hardly survive and the best it could ever achieve is stagnation.
Conflicts and differences of opinion always exist in a healthy, virile organisation, for it is usually from such differences that new and better objectives and methods emerge. Differences are essential to progress, but bitter, unresolved differences can immobilise an organisation Likert 1961
Conflict is a requirement of growth. A company without conflict will be suffering from group think and quite simply there are not that many industrial/management/marketing geniuses to comprise and make a successful company operating in this mode. Tom Peters talks about Skunks – people who have all the facts but are not afraid to challenge things if they can see a different and better way of doing things. However this requires a corporate climate where disagreement is not seen as disloyalty.
Western science is full of examples where one person has discovered something new differing from the accepted mass communications of wisdom – of mostly the church – and literally changed the world. But always there has been conflict in the transition.
Although conflict can be attributed to poor communication it is rarely the largest cause of conflict in a company. Conflict is here to stay and embodied in Gordon Geckos infamous quote in Wall Street “greed is good”. It would not be an exaggeration to say that western society is shaped by conflict. Take our legal system for example; it uses an adversarial approach and no one can doubt the communication skills of the top barristers.
If your people fight you openly when they think your wrong that’s healthy. If people fight each other openly in your presence for what they believe in that’s healthy. But keep all the conflict eyeball to eyeball Towsend,R
Orders flow down a company hierarchy. Communication of the understanding of such flows upwards. Crosswise people share information on getting things done often in contravention of policies
Employees need direction, information and entertainment accurately and truthfully delivered by both the formal and informal company chains of communication.