Communication in the Workplace
There are situations in which communication is essential and can even make the difference between life and death. One such application is communication in the workplace.
At the beginning of our discussion, it is critical that we agree on a definition: the Merriam – Webster online dictionary defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.”
Not all workplaces are equally dangerous, but some have extreme hazards. In heavy manufacturing, for example, large overhead cranes may move items / structures weighing many thousands of pounds. Failure to communicate clearly and completely in such circumstances may easily lead to crushing, amputations, and other cataclysmic results.
Less critical, yet intensely expensive problems may develop when failed communications result in botched production, faulty products, products shipped to the wrong destination… the list of potential difficulties seems endless.
In order for communication in the workplace to be efficient and effective, some basic standards must be established.
Understand what should be communicated. Clear communication is useless if it fails to communicate needed information. Communication becomes blurred when cluttered by unnecessary details. Think it through carefully. Absolutely never assume that anything is known by others. Omit nothing which matters. Include nothing irrelevant!
Choose an appropriate medium. When communicating with individuals who are not present in the same time and place, clear written communication is usually the best approach. On the other hand, the man who is actively directing placement of a 50 ton steel fabrication by an overhead crane should not even consider using written communication. In his case, clear, definitive hand signals are usually the preferred medium.
Be sure the communication is clear, not subject to misinterpretation. Again, the overhead crane scenario offers an extreme illustration. The operator must absolutely have no doubt what is meant by the signals. It is imperative that every potential command have a clear and distinct association with a specific signal. Only such predetermined signals should be used.
If written communication is the preferred media, clearly defined terminology should be used. Include all relevant information; avoid any excessive verbiage which might tend to clutter the process. A document which contains all needed details – buried in a mountain of excess verbiage – may have the same communicative effect as one which lacks important details!
Use a common language. Precise and accurate communication is useless, if it is done in a language which is not universally understood by all participants. Two extreme examples of this problem: Disastrous aircraft crashes have occurred because the flight crews didn’t understand the language of the air traffic controllers. Aircraft mechanics who couldn’t understand the manuals have contributed to in-flight failures, not through negligence, but rather due to misunderstanding. It is imperative that all communication in the workplace utilize a language / medium which is clearly and completely understood.
Rule out interference. Correct information, conveyed clearly through an appropriate medium, in a common language can still fail, if it is distorted by interference. Examples include speech which is masked / distorted by background noise, written communications which are confused by dirty / damaged documentation, hand signals which are partially masked by visual impediments (physical objects, glare, smoke, other people). It is impossible that this article will list every potential form of interference. Still, it is critical that all participants in each event be intensely cautious to avoid any such interference.
If there is any doubt, stop! Do not proceed until you know for sure that you know for sure! In some instances, poor communication may result in inconvenience. When the topic is communication in the workplace, the consequences may go far beyond minor discomfort! Never take that risk!