Communicating at Work

We face interpersonal issues often because we are misunderstood, misinterpreted and misquoted. At work most of our time is spent communicating – speaking, listening, reading or writing. We communicate to inform, to persuade, to exchange messages and convey our thoughts, ideas, emotions and feelings. The more experienced we are or the more time we have spent working, we develop our own style of communication, tried and tested, which we believe is the best one. But still we often land up in situations which resonates with the memorable line from the 1967 Paul Newman movie classic ‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”. Then, we wonder what would have gone wrong.

The problem is the filter in our minds - made up of our opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs, which in turn are shaped by our experiences in life, our education, the way we are brought up, our personality type and the social environment and culture we come from. This filter influences the way we process messages and respond to them. Messages that are in line with our thought process are acceptable and elicit a favourable response and there is no conflict. Conflict occurs when we confront ideas or messages that are not in alignment with our values, beliefs and expectations. To quote from Harper Lee’s famous book ‘To kill a Mocking Bird’, “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for".

We fail to put ourselves in the others’ shoes and see and feel as they do. Again taking the lines from Lee’s book “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." As parents we fail to understand our kids, as children we do not see the rationale behind our parents’ words, sometimes we are not able to relate to the grief or emotions of a friend or loved one. At our workplace in our role as superiors we are not able to empathise with our subordinates, as subordinates we miss the larger picture of organisational objectives and vision when we look at things from our narrow vision of work. At workplace all of us occupy different positions in the organisational hierarchy. If I may use the analogy, we are all at different heights (positions) on the mountain of hierarchy. For the top management, up at the top of the mountain the view is certainly different from that of a person positioned at the foothill.

In organisations a healthy workplace is a must for employees to give their best performance and improve productivity. Today’s workplace is characterised by diversity in gender, age, sexual orientation, race, caste, community and geography. It is very important that the principles of inclusiveness are practiced to avoid stereotyping, bias and prejudice so that there is open and free flow of communication and less conflict.

Open and free flow of communication will happen only when we respect and accept differences. We must set aside all our biases, prejudices and remove the filter when receiving ideas and messages. Genuine empathy can only be possible if we can consider things from the other person’s point of view - figuratively “climbing inside of his skin and walking around in it.”

By Vandana Madhavkumar