It is rare, particularly in small businesses, that marketing executives are solely responsible for the marketing function alone; many have merged job roles and responsibilities such as “marketing and communication” (marcomms to some) or “marketing and business development” etc. There is one word here that stands out for me: communication. Firstly, I am drawn to it due to its ambiguity; as you know, communication can be verbal, non-verbal, written, conscious, unconscious, internal, external – the list goes on. Secondly, my issue arises with the implied responsibility that communications (regardless of form) are the sole responsibility of one person or one department. Thirdly, and finally, communication (or the effectiveness thereof) is largely subjective; what is effective communication to one person may not seem effective to another, resulting in miscommunications. We have all experienced situations where we feel that our communication was effective, nevertheless, it was met with confusion, misunderstanding, or even animosity. The fact is that even when face-to-face with another human being, speaking the same language, and from the same cultural background, your methods of communicating can still be misconstrued. Subjectivity and responsibility are the two key issues that I would like to focus on in this article, in the hope that someone, somewhere, reading this will potentially see a different perspective than what they have previously considered.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure communications in a business environment? The directors? The management team? When I taught at a secondary school during my brief teaching career, I experienced an issue with responsibility of communication. Pupil A arrived back at school after a few days’ absence due to illness. The following day, a group discussion was to take place following a reading that I had assigned; Pupil A arrived and stated, “I was off and you didn’t tell me about the reading so I didn’t do it!” Interestingly, Pupil A’s classmate (let’s call them Pupil B), had been absent as well, however, Pupil B had done the reading. Both were absent when the assignment was given. Pupil B had arrived back at school and asked his classmates if he had missed out on any work whilst he was gone, Pupil A had not asked and assumed the responsibility lay with me to seek him out and inform him of the missed assignment. Now, I will submit that in this scenario Pupil B displayed uncharacteristically accountable behaviour for many teenagers, however, Pupil A experienced an important fact that communication is a two-way street meaning both parties have a responsibility. Translating this to a business environment, it is certainly a duty of a manager to ensure that relevant business information is communicated to the employees, but it is also the duty of the employee to communicate if something is not understood or clear; the employee has just as much responsibility to find out certain things if they are unsure rather than hide behind “I didn’t know” or “no one told/asked me”. It is also important to note that information can be communicated from all angles, not just down from the managers, but across from team to team. Many organisations claim to foster an environment where collaboration and information sharing is encouraged, however, the accountability for actioning this lies at an individual level. All employees need to be engaged and accountable for effective communication within a business, regardless of level otherwise the values set by the organisation are just pretty words. Take responsibility for your own knowledge.
Leading onto subjectivity, what do you do when you feel as though you have communicated a topic adequately and respectfully, but you have received feedback stating the exact opposite? We all have our own filters through which we see the world and hear and process information; this room for interpretation can be a huge barrier to effective communication. Our filter is based on our past experiences, values and beliefs, emotional intelligence, tolerance and mood. It is hugely important to keep in mind that each filter is different, and it may be necessary to tailor your method of communication to the needs of that person. Does that person prefer written or verbal communication? Does that person like to be spoken to in a specific way? Some people prefer details, others want short, straight to the point facts; an individual’s ability to adapt to these variables is a learned skill, we do not all inherently understand or empathise. Ways that organisations can help their employees understand this can include various forms of training that teach you how to understand yourself and others, whether this be a form of emotional intelligence training, Insights™ training, or similar. Again, responsibility plays a part here. Do you want to learn how to understand and improve communication with your co-workers? Speak up, tell your line manager or person responsible for development in your organisation. Ensure that you can sit back in the knowledge that you did your part in the two-way ambiguous world of communication.