“Improving communication” is frequently cited as one of the main objectives listed by employers when organising a corporate event. But to measure this, we need to understand what we mean by ‘communication’, and how this may have evolved with rapid tech advancements.
Communication in 2018
Undoubtedly, the communication spectrum within the workplace has become broader thanks to the aid of technology. Colleagues can use social media and online video and audio conferencing such as Skype or Zoom to partake in meetings, even to the extent of hiring processes playing out exclusively online. There are interesting quandaries that come with this, largely that with a webcam situated at the top of your device, not in the middle of the screen where your face is, it’s actually impossible to look somebody in the eye via video conferencing! With the written word a misplaced exclamation mark or emoji to a colleague can evoke chaos / cause unintended offense / change the entire meaning of everything. Communication is no longer neatly compartmentalised, but overlaps with machinery and technology, creating a kaleidoscope of messages that can clarify or complicate the workplace. And that’s where Withinnovation’s communication challenge comes in…
No, 93% of our communication is not non-verbal
Before we introduce the challenge, we’d like to acknowledge that communication in today’s world is not as simplistic as we may have once been made to believe.
Back in the 1970s, the psychologist Albert Mehrabian carried out an experiment on communication whereby participants were asked to assess the positive, negative or neutral content of various singular emotive words when read out in particular tones or compared to pictures of different expressive faces. The conclusion of the study was that 55% of communication happened through facial expressions, 38% via tone of voice and only 7% related to the actual words used. For decades to follow, schools, universities, corporate trainers and employers have relayed this study as fact, often to make a point about the effectiveness of face-to-face meetings or lack of reliable information a text message can convey. While the study seems to have become a staple piece in most of our learning, it’s been heavily criticised for a number of reasons, mostly relating to the experiment’s structure and lack of ecological validity, as well as the small sample size and demand characteristics of the participants. Many modern-day thinkers say that this widely spread notion of 93% of our communication being non-verbal is in fact completely false. For a moment, think about a speech delivered at Cambridge University by the late Professor Hawkins. Tone of voice and body language removed, Hawkins relied solely on his “7% communication” to deliver astounding speeches that were clear, concise and fascinating to follow. Was anyone really missing the 93%? Probably not…
Nobody is disputing that there is a complex relationship between verbal and non verbal communication. What we are saying is that this is difficult to measure in any blanket terms and that different groups, cultures and contexts play a vital role in how language is perceived and used. Modern interpretations of Mehrabian’s study say that, when talking solely about attitudes and feelings, his findings have some weight. But when added into broader real-life contexts (such as a workplace meeting or University lectures) the words themselves hold more importance than the study suggests. Words are the ingredients of emails, instant messages, social media content, letters and meetings notes. Words alone have the power to hire and fire, reward and discipline, motivate and deflate – but only if that’s their intention. And that’s where it becomes crucial for all team members to reflect on their written communication style, clarity and tone.
Age demographics and communication styles
It has become apparent with the rise of millennials in the workplace that businesses need to adapt their technologies to conform to expectations. One of the most frequent findings is that this age group value instant and regular feedback. While their (older) managers might see promise in employees who can work independently and self-motivate, millennial employees have reported working more efficiently when the communication with management is two-way. One method of tackling this is the introduction of business communication software like Basecamp that brings all team levels into the conversation and allows for instant communication in real-time in an organised and structured way.
A brief look at The Hawthorn Effect
In some instances, communication (leading to action) happens without any words at all and instead through the use of gestures. This was observed as early as the 1950s and is commonly known as The Hawthorn Effect, due to experiments that took place at a Chicago factory called Hawthorn Works. The experiments proved that employee productivity, attitude and morale could be improved through non-verbal actions, such as making employee workspaces nicer environments, allowing more light to enter the building or, you guessed it, organising a fun team-away day. This sends the message that employees are cared about and valued without a single wordy email being sent, and is important for managers and team leaders to remember when setting targets.
The Withinnovation Comms Challenge
As communication styles vary from team to team, we believe a one-size-fits-all approach to improving communication skills has limits. Therefore, we have designed an adjustable challenge that can be customised to reflect the normal workings of your company and give employees an opportunity to observe the interesting comparisons between modern messaging styles.
In this challenge, three teams are created –
Team 1 – identifiers
Team 2 – communicators
Team 3 – builders
One is only allowed to communicate using email, the next can only use phone and the third can only use a business communication app (such as Basecamp or Asana).
The teams are separated. Team 1 will be given instructions and their job is to identify which pieces of a complex build are required in the correct order.
Team 2 possess the build pieces and, from their comms with Team 1, will have to correctly assess which pieces are required so they can deliver them and explain their interpretation of the build process to Team 3.
Team 3’s job is to complete the build.
The tasks given are strategically chosen to challenge each team, giving them the ability to assess the effectiveness of the method they’re using. Ultimately, this task highlights the strengths and limitations of each communication medium and encourages teams to reflect on their practises in the workplace. They may agree that, in some instances, a phone call is always more appropriate than an email – in other instances the opposite will be true. And this isn’t just about assessing the efficacy of the medium. Individuals will be able to learn about each other’s preferred methods and reflect on any areas they themselves feel they can improve on.
Every company will agree that good communication is vital in the running of the business. What’s also crucial is an acknowledgement that the way we talk to one another has changed dramatically over the years and that up-to-date, customised learning is required to assess how this translates to a company. We want to help. Call us today on 02039 119 900 and let’s discuss how we can assess and improve communication in your workplace.