Nov 29

Communications is a contact sport – if done correctly

As a student-athlete, I gravitated toward noncontact sports: track and field, cross country and volleyball. As a sports fan, I’ve always loved contact sports – bring on football, basketball and hockey. And as a communications professional, the contact sports arena has become my home.

Effective communications requires lots of contact – and even a helmet, pads and mouth guard at times.

More so than ever before, today’s fast-paced digital world fosters communications that, if gone unchecked, are often one-way and one-dimensional. This can create confusion, frustration and even anger on both sides of the ball.

We’ve seen this play out in various arenas of our community during the pandemic: government buildings, schools, workplaces and places of worship, just to name a few. When individuals feel like they’re not being heard or, worse, they don’t have a voice in what matters most to them, they’ll fight back – or simply walk away.

The Great Resignation” is proof of the latter. Employees in various industries across the country are leaving in droves for a myriad of reasons, including failed leadership that believes communications is a noncontact sport. The result: Organizations are losing talent and, in some extreme cases, losing customers because they can’t keep up with demand.

While some of the reasons behind the Great Resignation are outside of the control of employers – the pandemic and fatigue associated with it, changing interests and priorities among employees, health concerns and issues, etc. – many are within their purview. This includes employee burnout and feelings of being undervalued and not supported, lack of flexibility in the workplace and insufficient benefits, among others.

This is where the rules of effective communications come in – and why organizations need to embrace and operationalize them. Effective communications takes:

  • Hearing vs. passive listening: The recent calls for racial justice have introduced many of us to the phrase “I hear you, I see you and I stand with you.” It’s a simple yet powerful way to express a much deeper level of understanding and empathy beyond a nod of the head and a half listening of the words being spoken. To truly “hear” employees, leaders need to create safe spaces for open and honest conversations and then actively listen, blocking out their own thoughts and to-do lists.
  • Requesting feedback and genuinely accepting it and acting on it: It may seem simple, but too many leaders are adverse to constructive criticism, believing they have all the answers. Opening yourself up to feedback and other ideas can seem scary, but it’s the only way to get buy-in from employees and demonstrate your investment in them as human beings with lives outside the workplace vs. one-dimensional worker bees. While not all feedback and ideas will turn into action items, it’s important to keep an open mind and jump on the ones that make sense for the organization.
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable: This is where the proverbial helmet, pads and mouth guard come in handy. When leaders open themselves up to feedback, catching all the balls thrown their way – the good, the bad and the ugly – is a must. It’s all about getting comfortable with the occasional bruised ego.
  • Bringing your authentic self to conversations: Who we are at our deepest core is the most important thing we can bring to any conversation. What we say must align with our actions if there is to be trust in any relationship – and that’s especially true for organizations and their employees. Once the first three steps above are operationalized, this fourth one is a natural fit.

Effective communications isn’t as complicated as a flea flicker or full-court press, but it does take contact, commitment and the occasional compress.


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