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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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Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship

blogIn six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.

In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.

Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.

In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.

Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.

My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Preparing for Travel- Tips to overcome language barriers

tourist-clipart-touristsIn the summer of 2011, I traveled to Italy with a friend, to take a guided fourteen-day tour of the country. Before we left, I bought several travel books to educate myself on the dos and don’ts of the American traveler. Throughout all the readings, it appeared that American’s had gained quite the tourist reputation. In a blog written by Caroline Morse a contributor to the HuffPost Travel, it explains American’s reputation is so infamous, “that the term “Ugly American” has become shorthand for any tourist that sticks out or misbehaves abroad.” The timing of my travels was unfortunate, as the cast of Jersey Shore had just concluded filming in Florence just before we arrived; therefore, I journeyed to Italy already feeling as though I had something to prove.

The majority of the literature I read stressed that the language barrier is often the most difficult task for Americans to overcome. Caroline Morse points out, “American tourists are notorious for just repeating English questions louder when a nonspeaker doesn’t understand.” Another language barrier issue for Americans is they use a lot of slang when speaking. Rick Steves, author of travel guidebooks, illustrates “Our American dialect has become a super-deluxe slang pizza not found on any European menu.” When Americans, or anyone for that matter, travel, it can become frustrating and even cause conflict when you are unable to effectively communicate.

So what can a traveler do before traveling abroad to assist in breaking down the language barrier?

The first tip emphasized is to research the country that you are traveling to and educate yourself about their customs. Female First suggests that you “Check out local customs, laws, and cultural differences. That way you can be prepared and avoid situations that might lead to a problem where a language barrier might stand in your way”. American culture is very different from other country’s culture; therefore, it is important to be aware of minor details such as when two people are first introduced, do they shake hands or bow? Or do they make eye contact when speaking to one another or is long held eye contact considered disrespectful? In order to make sure you are not offending anyone when traveling, knowing these details is necessary.

The second tip is to learn several key phrases in the country’s native tongue so that you can use when needed. Stacey Rudolph from Business 2 Community recommends that you, “Learn how to say good morning, hello and how do you do in the local tongue. Apart from that, learn the right phrases to ask for help in an emergency, directions, way to the bathroom and so on”. If you show that you are taking the initiative to learn their culture, people will be more inclined to help you.

The third tip is to speak slowly and annunciate your words. Rick Steves suggests, “Choose easy words and clearly pronounce each syllable (fried po-ta-toes) Try not to use contractions.” The person assisting you may be able to pick up on one or two words and determine what it is that you are asking if you speak slowly. Stacey Rudolph even advises that you “Find out if the person speaks English before you start stumbling in the local tongue”. If the person assisting you understands English then they can help you more quickly then you stumbling and mangling words and further confusing the conversation.

When traveling it is always important to keep in mind that each country has their own set of cultural customs and not attempting their language can come across as disrespectful and may raise conflict. Residents of the country that you are traveling do appreciate a tourist taking the initiative to learn their language and customs, and Americans who do this can assist in improving the stigma of the “Ugly American tourist”.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Lessons in Empathy –Tips on how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Clipart Illustration of Two Orange People On Blue Puzzle Pieces,When I was younger and in a conflict with a friend, I would always vent to my mom. I would often, as most of us do, blame the other person and make generalizations and assumptions about why my friend was acting, saying, and doing those things to me (always intentionally in my eyes). Once I would finish venting, my Mom would then take on the role of devil’s advocate. At the time, this drove me nuts because in my dramatic pre-teen/teen years, I just wanted her to take my side. I had no idea this little exercise she continuously did would end up benefiting me not only in my education but also in my life.

What is empathy and why is it important?

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In an article adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow found on Mindtools.com he explains that empathy, “Allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and it informs our decisions.” In a conflict, if you take the time to try and recognize where the other person is coming from, you can gain an alternative perspective.

How can you be more empathetic?

One step towards being more empathetic is to listen to the other person when they are speaking. Mike Robbins contributor to the HuffPost Healthy Living blog explains, “Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.” Often in conflict, we stop listening to one another because we are too absorbed in our thoughts and feelings or because we are preparing a response.

The next step suggested by Bruna Martinuzzi is, “Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and [have a] genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.” By taking the time to ask questions and be inquisitive about the other person’s life, you are getting to know them and showing that you care, which builds trust and rapport and makes it easier to step into their shoes if a conflict should arise.

The final step suggested by Reginald Adkins, a contributor on LifeHack.org, to being more empathetic is to “Assure you’re understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.” In order for you to be empathetic, you must make sure that you comprehend the message the person is trying to convey. Sometimes it can be helpful to regurgitate back to the person what you heard. If what you heard and what they said are not matching up, allow them to clarify further. While doing this may seem tedious, it ensures that no miscommunication occurs and that you have a clear understanding of that person’s perspective, which then allows you to be more empathetic.

It is always in hindsight that we can see the lessons our parents were trying to teach us. I can remember a time in college when I was in a conflict and I automatically stopped and thought, where are they coming from? In that moment, I recognized what my Mom had been doing all those years; she had been teaching me to be empathic.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student Intern,

University of Baltimore- Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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