Passing communications down from Senior Management on to your team in times of difficulty and organizational stress is both a challenge and an opportunity for leadership. Sometimes communicating the message verbatim may be counter-productive to accomplishment of the desired results. I share some personal examples of situations that required some modification in the message to optimize their constructive effects. Please take the following poll, and read on!
There are some Senior Management teams that are so well attuned to the skills of good communications that you can pretty much repeat their messages word-for-word without worry about how they will be interpreted or understood. However, they are few and far between and so a good leader must be able to "interpret" the message and frame it in the best possible way to most benefit his/her team, and the organization. Often, whether because of the style, innate characteristics or idiosyncrasies of the executive, or the emotional stress of the situation, messages have an unnecessary or unconstructive edge to them. I had a Business Unit VP that, when talking about the year's very restricted merit pay increase plan, wanted the group to know that "if you don't get a raise you should start looking for another job!" In another situation, our Division SVP was fond of preceding his comments with "I'm going to be brutally honest." In both these cases, I chose to filter out the emotional content, which didn't add to the effectiveness of the messages. Sometimes you'll find that Senior Management communications are too factual and unemotional, and that the message lacks any positive or inspiring content, and would not "motivate the troops" in any significant way. One boss I had was so flat-lined, his response to any recommended action or project was "I have no problem with that." When I took this "approval" back to my team, I basically shortened that message to "he said yes" and then used my own words to describe the plans, reasons, benefits, etc. Any of you who answered the poll with either 75% or 100%, my sympathies are with you. When I had many occasions to disagree with the tone of messages I was to deliver, one boss would tell me, "Well, you're the nice one, I'm not." Actually, it has very little with being "nice" and much more with being attuned to how a message is received, and getting the most positive results attainable.
Remember, that whenever you decide to filter the message, you need to balance the often competing objectives of chain of command and authority with maintaining a high performing and enthusiastic team. The desired result from the communication is the most important objective. However, you can find yourself in trouble if you're seen as "changing" the message, to the point of being placing your position at risk if you're seen as misrepresenting or usurping their authority. Some simple guidelines to follow include:
- When asked to deliver a problematic message, it is best to question the wording up-front: Is that REALLY what you want to say, sir?
- Don't lie, or put specific words in management's mouth that didn't originate there.
- Separate the information from the emotion. The former should be passed unfiltered. the latter not necessarily so.
- Stress the positives, the path forward, the desired future.
- Offer to talk to team members individually if there are concerns that should remain private.
- Don't openly criticize the message, as that can lead down the path of insubordination.
What communications challenges have you faced in your career?
This is the fifth post in a multiple-part series entitled Tools and Tips for Successful Management and Leadership
Next up: Gaining Acceptance as a New Supervisor
(C) 2010 Martin Bergstedt, Used by permission.