The Importance of Communication in the Workplace

A commonly-accepted definition of communication between people goes something like this:

Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. It requires a sender, a message and an intended recipient, although the intended recipient need not be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication. The act of communication can occur across vast distances in time and space and requires that the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality. The communication process is complete once the receiver has understood the sender.

There are many different forms of communication between people. Nonverbal, visual, oral and written forms are just a few that come to mind. In the field of aviation maintenance, the importance of sound reading, writing and speaking skills cannot be stressed enough. We need to understand what the problem is correctly in order to fix a problem on the aircraft. Likewise, once the problem has been fixed, we need to be able to return the aircraft to service and describe in detail exactly what we did to allow that action to happen.

In today’s world of computers, smart phones, iPads, e-mail, text messaging and twittering, one would think that communication skills have been taken to the next level. The sorry truth is just the opposite! The majority of high school graduates today cannot read at a twelfth grade level. Many military technical manuals are written to a sixth or seventh grade reading level and, in some instances, are laid out in comic book form.

So much can be misinterpreted or misunderstood due to a lack of clarity when we are talking or not being careful enough when we are listening. Ineffective communication skills in an organization can impact the bottom line dramatically. These costs can include:

• Increased employee turnover

• Increased absenteeism

• Dissatisfied customers due to poor customer service

• Higher product defect rates

• Lack of focus on business objectives

No wonder communication skills are so valued in the workplace! Whether it is the need to compose an e-mail carefully, raise a sensitive issue in a staff meeting, or sign off a squawk properly and return an aircraft to service, making our oral and written communications concise and clear will help your organization run more effectively.

So much can be lost in translation. Jargon exists in every industry and this can impede clear understanding. Acronyms enable quicker delivery, yet they also make deciphering a challenge for those who are unfamiliar with them. The ability to convey our intention and message clearly is extremely important at work. Just as important, yet rarely emphasized, is our ability to listen to what is spoken and what is unsaid yet conveyed through body language. It is this combination of both conveying and accurately receiving a message that makes up effective communication.

Here are five tips to improve the communication skills in your workplace:

Be specific and clear. Get to the point regardless of whether you are speaking or writing. Don’t ramble or include needless details. If you’re giving instructions or issuing a directive, take special care to be accurate and precise.

Establish true dialogue. Encourage your listener to ask clarifying questions or to follow up to aid their understanding. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know an answer, and be sure to get back to them with the correct answer when you do know.

Read and listen carefully. So much can be read between the lines of what is spoken or written based on the tone or body language associated with a message. Therefore, when on the receiving end, it is important to take into account the overall context of the message and be on the lookout for a disconnect between the words you hear or read and the subject matter.

Stay positive. Petty or passive-aggressive sniping should not be tolerated. Even the harshest feedback can and should be delivered in a positive, supportive, team-centric manner. Focus on behavior or performance and not character. When on the receiving end, it is equally important to avoid getting triggered by difficult messages.

Make a habit of on-the-spot communication. If you’ve got something important to convey, don’t put it off until the next meeting or tomorrow morning. Make on-the-spot communication a priority.

Following these five tips in your workplace can take time and self-discipline to master, but they can help improve overall communications dramatically. Over time, improving this soft skill can deliver hard bottom line results, as well as improve safety, both in the air and on the ground. 

R. Fred Polak |  Editor