Executives have five general methods for communicating both up and down the line. None of these is inherently better or worse than others. Each has advantages and disadvantages. You may have to compare two or more to select the most effective. Here are the media available to you and their respective pros and cons- two or more to select the most effective. Here are the media available to you and their respective pros and cons:
You can develop a two-way flow; also permits use of visuals charts, films, etc. you can show and explain. Permits discussion and better meeting of the minds. And you reach several minds at once.
Time-consuming, possibly inconvenient, and sometimes difficult to keep a meeting on track.
Can be a field day for the long-winded individual.
Speed. Permits questions and answers. Can be done from your desk.
Man, at the other end might be interrupted with something more important. Also, generally there is no record of the conversation.
FACE TO FACE
You can set a mood by a show of friendliness and relaxation. You can show, discuss visual material. Conversation is two-way.
One or the other individual may be subject to pressure by a powerful personality or other persons of high status. May not be easy to terminate.
Note or Memo
Brief. A tangible record can be filed. You can rethink your message.
One way. No control over its respondent at the other end. A rigid form, limited by permanent words on paper.
Can be comprehensive. Material may be organized at your leisure. Can be disseminated widely by means of copying. Provides you or a subordinate with an opportunity to show his stuff. Indexing and other summary devices help reader grasp scope of piece, locate specific subsections.
May require considerable time in reading. Problem of actual writing may be discouraging to a time-hungry executive.
The five methods above are not mutually exclusive. For special purposes, executives may use two or more methods to get a reinforcement effect.
Evaluating Your Outgoing Communications
All the material in an executive’s out-box represents an investment of thought, time, and energy. It is an investment that requires periodic evaluation. One way of evaluating your adequacy as a communicator is to test key memos, reports, letters by questions such as these:
Does this communication have a purpose?
Is the purpose well-served?
Is the communication needed and used by the person receiving it? If the communication is a request for information-
- is it going to the right person?
- does it ask the right questions?
- have you clearly indicated what you are asking for?
have you set a time limitation, that is, when you need what you asked for?
Are you communicating too frequently about the same things? (If the answer is yes, face to face meetings may be indicated.)
Could a form—for example, a checklist form—simplify a message or report?
Would you understand the communication if you received it? (As a matter of fact, put yourself in the place of the respondent. How do you feel about your communication now?)
Evaluating Your Incoming Communications
For many executives, their in-box is a terminal of a lifeline essential to keep them functioning effectively in their organizations. An occasional review of the communications that are dropped into your in-box can both improve your contacts and save you time. Questions like these should be raised about your mail:
If you tend to receive any amount of unnecessary or junk mail, should your secretary or assistant be screening your in-box?
With reference to material received periodically, do you really need it?
Do items with “perishable” material get to you on time?
Do regular communications contain all the information you need? If a periodic report contains more material than you need, can you have the sender streamline it? Should you pass a particular report on to others?
Generally, you will find that your information needs tend to change. Responsibilities and job content tend to vary even when job title or status do not. Accordingly, it is a good idea to make an assessment of your in-box a periodic affair to maintain a maximum level of effectiveness
Should You Tell It Like It Is?
Executives sometimes have a basic communications question to answer: is it always best to level with your subordinates—to tell it like it is, regardless of consequences? The problem arises in situations like these:
- The truth is unpleasant and telling it isn’t going to be easy. For example, there may be traumatic consequences. Some people are going to be fired, a restrictive policy is going to be instituted, and so on.
- The truth—good or bad—is something management is not ready to reveal as yet.
it’s difficult to set down exact guidelines in this explosive communications area. But here are some preliminary considerations that can shape what you eventually say:
Your own sense of integrity. Do you believe that you must always tell the truth, even when it hurts? Or do you think that conditions sometimes justify the “little white lie,” modifying the truth?
Your reputation. If you stretch the truth often, and without good reason, your employees will learn that they can’t rely on you as a source of information.
Where your loyalties lie. There is to be a personnel cutback but management is keeping quiet: it doesn’t want to cause wholesale upsets, and to have people quitting before they’re ready to lose them. Do you say something or don’t you? You have been entrusted with a certain amount of responsibility and are expected to handle that responsibility wisely. What do you do?
Bypassing is a traditional communications problem in which a manager is, in effect, dropped out of a communications chain. It can happen in one or two ways:
- Contacting your subordinate without going through you. Example: Your boss, or another manager, may take up some business matter directly with one of your subordinates, without your knowledge or permission. In other words, someone from up the line, or at your level, goes “behind your back” on some business matter with one of your people.
- Contacting your boss without your knowledge or permission. Here, one of your subordinates undertakes direct communication up the line, or with your superior, without your knowledge or consent.
Bypassing represents an undesirable shortcutting of channels because it has destructive consequences: it weakens the bypassed manager’s authority; it deprives him of information that sometimes he should have; if procedures or operations are started as a result of the bypassing, the manager many remain in ignorance of operations which he should be controlling.
To handle this problem, you should first know some of its possible causes. Here they are:
- The authority of the manager is either being questioned or flouted.
- Subordinates feel that they can get a better response which somehow favours them, by going “directly to the top.”
- When someone up the line bypasses you to get to your subordinate, it may be because he’s under time pressure, or you’re not around at the moment when the upper echelon executive wants to get some information or action from one of your people.
If you’re a victim of bypassing, the first thing to remember is, don’t show resentment, particularly if it’s a first. Constructive action is much more possible if it begins on a factual, rather than emotional basis.
The manager who is bypassed must consider some tough questions. Here they are; first, if it’s a subordinate who goes over your head:
- Are you too slow? In some cases, a failure to respond quickly to an employee’s request prompts him to think of going directly up the line. If you can’t act fast, tell the person why and how soon you think you can move. If your communications up the line are at fault, see if there isn’t some way you can improve them.
- Are you using the “back of your hand”? A manager with so many other items to demand his attention, may not give as much weight to a request as the employee does. The manager may show this by the way he handles the problem. You have to take pains to let the employee feel that you share his concern with the question.
- Are you failing to “listen”? The specific matter the employee wants you to take up the ladder may not actually be his real interest. You have to listen carefully to tell whether an employee is bypassing you because you have failed to understand what it is he really wants.
- Do you use your influence with your boss? This may be the toughest aspect of all. But when a manager doesn’t swing his weight with a superior, the employee may feel he can get more consideration directly from the boss.
Don’t dismiss the possibility that an employee may be expecting more of you than he should. Within the limits of a normal relationship with your superior, you may be going at full power. If that’s the case, explain the facts to your subordinate.
But where there’s definitely something lacking, you’ll have to look for an opportunity to discuss it with your boss. You should have specific information to pass along to him rather than a vague feeling that you need “more authority.” Go into the facts of the matter with him.
Next, if the bypassing is by a superior who goes to one of your subordinates without your knowledge:
Is it just a one-time emergency occurrence?
For example, your boss needs some information which your subordinate has and you’re not around. In this type of situation, the only requirement is that either your boss or the subordinate lets you know what has happened after the fact.
Have there been instances where you’ve failed to respond to a superior’s request for information?
For the forgetful manager, or the one who procrastinates, the answer to this question must be, “Yes, I’ve been guilty in the past, but it won’t happen again.”
Is the boss at fault?
It may be an unpleasant fact to face up to, but in some cases, bypassing from the top down is the failure of disinclination by the superior to recognize the authority of the manager. In this case, what’s called for is a tactful discussion with a superior that emphasizes: a. the manager’s willingness to act as a communications link—get the desired information, or convey it; b. emphasis by the manager that his authority role, vis-a-vis the employee, will be undermined if the bypassing continues.
Bypassing situations sometimes are complicated.
You might be involved in one for which none of the above points is the sole answer. But you’ll be able to uncover the reasons and be guided accordingly if you ask yourself:
- Why does the man bypass me?
- Is his reason for an indication that I’m not running my job properly?
- What must I do to prevent recurrences?