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The Blockage Between Upper Management and Employees: Poor Communication and How to Improve It

communication.jpegI have had the experience of working in several organizations that despite having competent employees, financial means, and a solid customer base have failed to achieve their goals ultimately. These organizations are riddled with disorganization, frustration, and an overall negative atmosphere. Why might these previous employers of mine be experiencing these issues? A lack of communication between the Upper Management and its employees is a major cause. When those in leadership roles do not converse with their employees, those in lower paid positions feel frustrated, angry, and helpless leading to low workplace morale.

Mike Myatt a contributor to Forbes and leadership advisor points out, “If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation.” I learned in my conflict management classes that the moment people stop communicating with one another the chance of resolution diminishes. However, if what is being communicated is omitting wrong or untrue information, conflicts will also rarely reach resolution.

Chris Joseph writer for Chron.com outlines four ways poor communication can cause conflict in the workplace.

  1. It can “[create] uncertainty.”
  2. It can cause issues when employees have to “[share] resources.”
  3. It can generate “poor teamwork.”
  4. It can spread “rumors and gossip.”

If communication issues such as these four examples continue to cause conflict and are not addressed, the overall business could be impaired. So why does poor communication continue to occur?

Miranda Brookins marketing professional and writer for Chron.com suggests six reasons, “Lack of leadership, unclear goals and duties, undertrained employees, limited feedback, employees disengaged, and virtual teams.” In previous organizations of which I have worked, one or more of these reasons have been the cause of poor communication.

How can companies improve communication in the workplace?

Inc. Staff from Inc.com suggests that an organization, “Create a culture. Above all else, to the extent possible, strive to be transparent and straightforward about the challenges of your business and even about your company’s financials. Such candor fosters trust and understanding”. A contention I had with one of the companies for which I worked is when upper management came and spoke to us, the employees. They informed us that there were not going to be any layoffs, and then, a week later, laid off fifty people. From that point on, I did not trust anything upper management said to us. I could understand upper management not wanting to cause panic among its staff; however if they had been upfront about layoffs they would have maintained the respect and trust of their employees.

Tim Eisenhauer co-founder of Axero, “Checking in with how your employees are doing is an essential aspect of running a business that should never be overlooked.” He goes on to explain, “Open forums such as [a town hall meeting], not only serve to improve internal communication, but can also help to empower your employees.” I once worked for a company where one of the bosses, took the time to walk around and speak to us employees, He simply walked around and asked, “How is your day going?” I remember feeling like he truly cared about my well-being, which made me feel appreciated. In other organizations where the upper management did not take the time to converse with me or they talked down to me, I often felt less inclined to work hard for them.

Another suggestion by Tim Eisenhauer is instead of one-sided communication, “allow for communication to be a two-way street, as you’ll see a number of benefits by taking this approach.” In one company of which I worked, the upper management often told us what their plans were instead of consulting us for ideas or allowing an open door policy to air our grievances. Therefore, we only knew what was going on after plans have been set in motion. Employees may have useful knowledge that could contribute and push the company forward. By not accessing this human capital resource an organization is limiting their success.

For an organization to be successful they must communicate. When people understand what is expected of them and they feel appreciated, they tend to work together more efficiently with less stress and frustration. This only benefits the employees and the company. If I had an opportunity to speak with upper management with my previous employers, I would suggest communicating openly and honestly with their employees. In doing so, employees will feel valued, trust their employer, and ultimately have the desire to perform to the best of their abilities.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Dealing with Conflict When Crisis Strikes – Thoughts from the Baltimore City Riots

emergencyprepchecklistI am writing this week’s blog post with a heavy heart. I was born and raised in Maryland, and I have been a resident of Baltimore City for the past four years. The events that occurred over the course of these past couple of weeks; starting with the arrest and then the death of Freddie Grey, is nothing short of tragic. As a student graduating in less than two weeks, with my Masters in Negotiation and Conflict Management from the University of Baltimore, these events have been eye opening to the deep-seated conflicts that exists not only in Baltimore City, but also throughout the United States. As a society, my hope is that we will do better, see the error in our ways, and make the necessary changes needed to progress forward.

Conflict will likely occur when multiple actors are involved in dealing with crisis incidents. In Baltimore, a number of businesses, large and small, were casualties of the riots. Companies must be organized so that owners and employees know what to do, where to go, who to report to, and what they are permitted to do to ensure safety, during times of crisis. If not, escalating conflict will occur causing confusion, possible injury, lack of timely response, and finger pointing when things don’t go well. Christine Pearson suggests in her article “A Blueprint for Crisis Management”, “The best firms … recognize that taking deliberate steps to prepare for the unforeseen can pay off handsomely.”

If a business does not formulate an approach to managing a crisis smoothly, conflict could arise between owners, employees, and external influences and the consequences could be potentially damaging.

So what can business owners and employees do to ensure these damaging consequences do not occur in the midst of a crisis?

Diana Pisciotta a contributor to Inc.com suggests, “One of the best outcomes of thinking about a crisis before it happens is the chance to consider your company’s strategy without the pressure of news choppers hovering over your facility.” Before a crisis occurs it is important to have an emergency plan in place so that all parties involved know what could be the worst outcomes, who to report to and receive directives from, and what is the plan moving forward. Effective communication of a crisis plan could clear up misunderstandings of authority and the tasks for which each person is responsible.

Clark Communications a virtual public relations agency recommends, “Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in an adverse environment or with an antagonistic news media.” In a crisis, especially now in the digital era, information whether accurate or not, is streamed to a global audience in an instant. Those in leadership roles need to communicate to their employees the facts they have received in a timely fashion, or they risk inaccurate information being received or heard. In a crisis, this could be detrimental.

Christine Pearson warns, “Once notified that a crisis has broken out, the best an organization can hope for is effective assistance from those within and outside the organization.” If a business does not have positive relationships formed both internally and externally, when a crisis occurs an owner cannot assume their employees and stakeholders will be there is assist once the dust settles. A business owner must build these relationships up to ensure assistance once a calamity occurs.

Finally, personality conflicts occur when a mix of different cultures, race, beliefs, attitudes, and work styles come together in one place. Royale Scuderi from Lifehack emphasizes, “Personality conflicts can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. Conflicts can usually be diffused by acceptance, understanding, appropriate action, and professionalism.” In times of crisis, it’s imperative that business owners and employees, put their differences assign and focus on the task at hand. It is important to recognize that they are all working towards the same goal.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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