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Business talk

A vital factor in a company's success is good communication among its employees. According to the book In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman) excellent companies have a vast network of informal, open communication. Their staff keep in contact with one another on an informal and formal basis. Management encourages easy and frequent communication.

How do you rate communication within your own company? Are you happy with it or do you think it could be improved? Perhaps some of the following factors affecting in-company communication are familiar to you?

Failing to get the message

Many managers believe they give clear instructions to their employees. In fact, research has shown that employees very often do not realise they have been told to do something. When managers give instructions they should endeavour to ensure that these have been understood and interpreted correctly.

Breakdown in communication

People can have difficulty communicating with other employees of higher job status. This "social distance" may affect how openly employees speak about their work. People of the same rank may talk frankly to one another about how things are going. However, they may be less honest with someone higher up in the hierarchy - for fear of prejudicing their position in the company. For this reason employees often "filter" information. They alter the facts to tell the boss what s/he wants to hear. One way of reducing social distance is to cut down the ways in which employees can indicate higher status. In Japanese companies, for example, it is usual for all staff to wear the same uniform. Many companies have a common dining area for all staff.

The physical element

Physical surroundings and distance can affect how well people communicate. The farther away one person is from another, the less often they communicate. Some research has shown that when the distance is more than 10 metres, the probability of communicating at least once a week is only 8%. This compares with 25% for people less than 5 metres apart! The physical layout of an office should therefore be carefully planned. Open-plan offices, for example, are designed to encourage quick and easy communication. Some companies prefer to install escalators, rather than lifts, to increase the chances of employees meeting face-to-face.

Selective perception

People perceive things in different ways. The world of a sender of a message is not the same as that of the receiver. Because their knowledge and experience is different, the sender and receiver are always on slightly different wavelengths. So the message may get distorted.

How can good communication be fostered?

The most important thing for all managers to remember is that communication is a two-way process. They should encourage their employees to ask questions and to react to what the managers are saying. Feedback is vital. The most useful question a manager can ask is "Did you understand that?"

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words or expressions in the above article which have the following meanings:

a. very large
b. try
c. likelihood
d. changed (in a negative way)
e. encouraged to develop

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