Want to Communicate? Then Shut up and Listen!

Want to Communicate? Then Shut up and Listen!

According to professor Cary L Cooper, co-author of Shut Up And Listen! The Truth About How To communicate At Work, new technologies are hindering good communication in the workplace

"I'm Chief Exec of HSBC Bank plc - and this bank's got 50,000 people. And before e-mail, people who work in the bowels of the organization wouldn't think of sending me a copy of their latest work, but they do now," comments Bill Dalton.

"Before, to send something on paper to me was a big deal, now it's easy, it might even be cool, but the main reason that people do that is it gives them a chance to put something in front of the Chief Exec that they never had a chance to put in front of them before.

"But what most people don't tell you is what really happens to all that e-mail. For example, I know other companies where the CEO has said that they welcome e-mail from everyone, but unfortunately it's only going one way.

"They actually have someone in their office looking at those e-mails and saying: 'Hey, look at what this bozo wants.' I don't want to do that. I want to be honest with the people who work in this bank."

The point, according to Theo Theobold and Professor Cary L Cooper, who include these remarks in their new book Shut Up And Listen! The Truth About How To Communicate At Work, is that who you could reach used to be limited by your position in the hierarchy. New technologies mean now everyone can get to anyone, whenever they want. But what might seem relevant to the sender can be of little relevance or importance to the recipient. If this results in the recipient not replying, then staff members are left with the feeling that their views are not listened to. That is poor communication, and organizations today are full of it.

Sadly, the authors say, the speed of uptake of e-mail has only been matched by the speed of abuse of it, and e-mail is just one of the new technologies potentially hindering - in a range of unexpected ways - good communication in the workplace. And Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University and a UK media favourite for expert comment on the issues of both occupational and personal stress, says lack of communication or poor communication is a major source of workplace stress.

"I do a lot of work in the field of occupational stress, and my co-author has worked for the BBC and does PR work, and both of us have noticed that one of the major sources of stress in the workplace is lack of communication or poor communication. Or worse, using the most inappropriate form of communication, like telling people through texting or e-mail that you've lost your job - and that's been done in the UK," Cooper told CIO magazine.

While most people in business are not sure whether to treat e-mail as friend or foe, the authors say business leaders need to be aware of the good and bad in e-mail, and ensure their outgoing messages do not compound the problems associated with it. And they should also try to convert their colleagues to the same way of thinking, in a bid to improve the number and relevance of messages hitting their inbox.

More broadly, say the authors, business leaders and other managers become much better communicators when they understand their communication style, think about how and what they communicate, plan their communications in advance, keep themselves open to responding to changes in circumstance and environment and also listen to what others have to say. Basing this book on these key principles, the authors profile 20 individuals and their communication skills and strategies for a range of successful organizations, such as Microsoft, the BBC, Nokia, Arsenal FC, Sainsbury's, HSBC and the Samaritans.

Cooper told CIO magazine that although communication is a big part of the job of the CIO, the need to communicate effectively, and to help everyone in the organization to do so, is not necessarily as close to the forefront of their mind as it should be.

"I think a lot of CIOs are people who either come from a technological background or are at the leading edge themselves of information generation and distribution, but don't effectively think through what the recipient needs," he says. "This has become a real problem, I think.

"The CIO is also a senior manager, and he or she needs to communicate effectively with their colleagues and their subordinates. I think the CIO should understand that that's a management role, and that his form of communication is important - his personal communication is really important."

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