Circa 2020. We are dealing with a pandemic with work from home (WFH) as the new norm. Continuous crisis communication with colleagues, clients, team members has been on top of everyone’s to-do list. Many of you might have received or even sent out extensive WFH advisories to keep your team engaged, occupied and cautiously aware of the fact that WFH does not involve house work in office hours.
To practice all these new COVID communication checklists I had to stay on top of my managerial game. My team had been accustomed to a two-call a day routine.
A few weeks ago, Bengaluru had a massive storm that disrupted power supply across the city. I for one dealt with a 45-hour outage that left me in the lurch. My phone was dead and so was my laptop. The inverter packed up and I was eating, sleeping and day-dreaming in the dark!
On that day, I was left powerless in all sense of the term. I needed to reach my team to let them know about the blackout but – no access to electronics, zero power backup in my apartment and a lockdown. My only hope was to get one team member’s number from a dead phone so I could call them from my landline. I took my charger and phone, ran to the guard room of the building next door – a condominium with massive power backup – and requested ‘guard bhaiya’ to let me charge my phone in his little room. And as luck would have it (with dollops of sanitiser on my palms and necessary temperature checks) I was let in to make my life less of a misery.
In a few minutes my phone turned on and I had, on a scrap of paper, the numbers of my colleagues jotted down. My heart swelled with joy, relief and many other emotions all at once.
My efforts were fruitful, I managed to call a colleague.
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR COMMUNICATION GAME WITH OR WITHOUT COVID
And perhaps, this mini crisis situation inspired me to write this post for all leaders, managers and employees out there who are perhaps adjusting to the new norm. WFH might be new to some, easy for others to adapt to and a chore in itself for many who prefer the sanctity of an office rather than their bedroom!
However, going beyond the pandemic lifestyle we have all now been forced to adjust to, companies/ businesses are crippled by first, second and third order problems routinely. Communication therefore becomes a tool to handle crisis situations small or big. And small things can make a big impact.
#1 BUSINESS TIP: Keep the communication flowing constantly both inside and outside the organisation
NOBODY CAN READ SILENCE
As the popular saying goes, assumption is the mother of all corruption. No human is a mind reader who will understand your thoughts, your thinking process, know your whereabouts and more, without you articulating the same.
In the same light I recall another instance in a previous organisation I worked at where I dealt with a rather difficult employee. Here I managed a team virtually and one of my teammates, a young girl, in her early 20s, was smart in every aspect of the job. However, her only drawbacks were a lack of discipline, and poor communication. I’d often find myself stressed out trying to reach her over the phone, email or text. She had never thought it necessary to respond to any communication.
It reached a point where the situation had to be escalated for it to be solved. And it did when the Editor sent out a stern mail to the team expressing his displeasure over the situation, without calling anyone out. In minutes I had all my teammates calling me to find out if they were the culprit – except this girl – who sheepishly avoided confrontation. Bottom line, she knew she was in the eye of the storm.
In both these incidents communication was critical here. In the latter, lack of communication resulted in an extremely negative perception of this employee including with the management.
And similarly had I not stretched myself to go that extra length to reach my team I would have perhaps left my colleagues with the impression of someone with a lackadaisical attitude in rather trying times (apart from missing in action for two business days).
Therefore the larger point is to communicate the micro details and be mindful of when it is needed as well. Remember, nobody can read silence.
Now let us say, you are an active communicator and check all the boxes when it comes to keeping everyone in your world in the loop of daily ongoings, it’s not the end.
#2 BUSINESS TIP: Distance should never be a barrier to communication, everybody deserves to know
DON’T ‘JUST SAY’, SPEAK WITH POWER AND CONFIDENCE
The buck does not stop at making a verbal statement or sending a mail or text. Effective communication involves stating your point confidently. And the first step towards achieving this is getting to the point quickly. Focus on the core subject you want to talk about and assert your view objectively. Often people tend to ramble on and on before hitting the punchline. This, in my view, dilutes the gravity of the subject/ situation. I would say start with powerful phrases: “In my view”, “I believe”, “May I suggest”. Not only does this get people to listen to you but it makes you sound like an authority on the matter.
The fear of being criticised, misunderstood or misjudged leads humans to be noncommittal most of the time. A case in point here is a phrase I often hear people use to end sentences – ‘just sayin’- the roots of which are in sitcoms and not literature. The urban dictionary describes the phrase as: a term coined to be used at the end of something insulting or offensive to take the heat off you when you say it.
And this removes the fuel from the fire. If you’re someone who has gotten used to using this, may I suggest stopping it all together? Especially when you’re giving constructive feedback to someone at work, this phrase dilutes the cause and effects are negligible.
#3 BUSINESS TIP: Communicate the intent and goal of your decision with the 7 C’s of communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete and courteous
MOVE BEYOND MONOLOGUES
Relaying your message to the receiver involves understanding and sharing. This essentially means you need to get everyone on board with your point of view. The smartest way to do this is by giving your audience a chance to reflect on what you just said. The power of the pause is immense. So what do you do? Pause for a few minutes after stating your view and let it sink in with all and sundry. Pausing not only helps your audience assimilate and digest your stand but also gives them time to come up with suggestions for or against yours.
As a former journalist I can safely say that monologues never helped me bring out the best of a story. With hundreds of entrepreneurs/ CXOs I’ve met over the years, my interviews often turned into brainstorming sessions. We debated business models, scalability, hiring, leadership philosophies and more. These conversations left me with heaps of intellectual capital today.
At the workplace too debates trump monologues. It’s as simple as that. She/ he who convinces wins. There is no better way to gain the confidence and trust of your opponents or bring more allies to your side of the table than by arguing your case well.
# 4 BUSINESS TIP: 80% of good leadership is listening so ask for generous feedback
If you’ve been successful with points 1&2, the verdict will always be in your favour.
And it all starts with you.
Whether you are an entrepreneur or a leader at the helm of affairs at a mature organisation good communication must be at the core of all business strategies. Great workplace culture is always built with clear communication as the backbone. Establishing this practice from the very start (especially for early stage companies) or trickling it down from the top is imperative to running an organisation that is well-oiled in every sense of the term.
#5 BUSINESS TIP: Create a culture of key messaging in your organisation
So dear reader, start talking!