Workplace Communication: How to Deal With Workplace “Snipers”

Effective communication skills in the workplace lower stress and improve productivity. However, some employees can sabotage a positive workplace atmosphere with their negative communication habits. For example:

A supervisor observes her employee looking around nervously and then ducking behind the copy machine.

“What are you doing?”, she asks.

A timid voice comes from behind the copy machine, “Avoiding snipers.”

Communication Snipers In the Workplace

First, let me be clear. I’m not talking about military sharpshooters, I’m talking about the every day communication snipers. The ones in the workplace.

Workplace snipers are highly trained marksmen (or women) who shoot verbal targets from concealed positions.

They have had specialized training in verbal communication attacks such as:

sarcasm,
humorous put downs,
disapproving looks
and innuendos.

Ok. So, your employees may not have to play “Duck and Cover” at your workplace, but they may feel like it sometimes, and that’s the worst thing they can do.

Workplace Communication Snipers Thrive on Negativity

Avoiding confrontation allows the snipers to get away with their covert hostility. Some people are just plain negative. They may have learned to act that way while growing up, or may have been rewarded for it later in life. Either way, they now make it a way of life – going about their day making trouble for those around them.

Snipers may not actually want to be too hurtful. They just have a poor way of dealing with relationships because they have learned that negative communication gives them an “edge.” So they use their verbal communication weapons to protect their territory, and keep anyone else from messing with them.

Unfortunately, this can have a negative effect on their workplace relationships, causing unnecessary conflict and tension. While snipers may feel they are gaining an “edge,” other employees wind up “feeling on edge” because of the problems they create.

People may find themselves tiptoeing around workplace snipers, keeping their distance, or avoiding them altogether. Their negativity has a destructive effect on the workplace atmosphere.

To Deal With Them, Learn this Communication Skill

Snipers usually refute their pot shots as either denial, “I’m only joking”, or volleying the responsibility back onto their victim, “Can’t you take a joke?”

Avoidance is not the answer. Here’s the secret to defusing them…

Train your employees to respond to these comments with a question.

“That sounds like you’re making fun of me. Are you?”
“What are you trying to tell me with that look?”
“Did you really mean what you said?”

Since verbal snipers rely on their camouflage, once their cover is blown, the chance for future attacks is lessened.

Dealing with negative communication is an essential leadership skill for supervisors and managers.

Being comfortable in the workplace is not only essential for employee job satisfaction, it’s also essential for quality productivity.

If you are a supervisor or manager, hold a communication skills training session with all your employees. This will alert any snipers that this type of negative communication won’t be tolerated. Your staff will appreciate your help and respect you for your leadership skills.

Workplace Communication – How To Make The Best Use of It

In its simplest form, communication is a system for sending and receiving messages. And when we do any of that within the workplace, as we do every day, we have “workplace communication”. How do we make the best use of it?

To understand what workplace communication is, one needs to first understand what communication itself is. Communication is a giving or exchanging of information, signals, or messages by talk, gestures, writing, etc., to give information and messages.

Communication is a process we use to have and keep a meaningful relationship. It is a system for sending and receiving messages as by telephone, telegraph, radio, etc… It is a system of routing for moving things from one place to another. It is the art of expressing ideas, especially in speech and writing. It is the science of transmitting information in symbol. It is all of these things and more.

Like all other basic communication, it needs to be developed, practiced and improved on a continuing basis. In the workplace, because we spend a large part of our daily lives at work, we first need the ability to communicate with others.

Within workplace communication we need to manage ourselves, our co-workers, our bosses, our suppliers and customers. We need to establish, cultivate and nurture business and personal relationships effectively and successfully.

How do we do that? For many, it does not come naturally. We get irritated by things and by people around us. We get frustrated if we cannot express ourselves properly. Many folks find it very hard to have any kind of relationship, let alone one at work. We often hear of conflicts, sometimes ending with tragic results.

One thing we all have in common: we all have to work at workplace communication. Some of us come into the workplace more equipped than others, some less. We decide what we need and initiate ourselves in the learning process. We may have to learn to communicate with diplomacy for example.

We may need to learn to become more persuasive communicators. We may need to learn to become better leaders in our own lives and in our own departments. We may need to learn to reduce stress in difficult situations, or in our overloaded responsibilities.

Whether we deal with our co-workers or our employees, we can improve workplace communication by learning to give and get constructive feedback. But first, we need to learn to be assertive. We need to be able to make contact with others and open up a conversation. We need to be interesting by reading interesting things that we can talk about, relating to our business. We need to smile more.

Workplace communication should flow from one person to another, from one department to another, from top management to bottom management.

Workplace communication takes many forms. It is verbal, nonverbal, written. It uses many means such as telephone, letters, memos, computers, Internet. Email has become the most common forms of workplace communication.

Workplace Communication – A Strategic Perspective

In my earlier article titled “Workplace Communication – A Practitioner’s View”, I had suggested deployment of a strategy as part of a comprehensive approach to employee communication.

Just to re-emphasize, I had suggested that the Workplace-Communication is a self-perpetuating process that aids the organization in achieving its goals by;

Interlinking various levels of hierarchy and functions;
Acknowledging employees about the organization’s vision, values and goals for enlisting their commitment;
Helping employees identify themselves with the organization’s vision and enabling them for prioritizing their actions; and
Helping the organization generate openness & mutual trust and develop congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

Here, I will now elaborate on the substance of a strategy for Workplace-Communication. Before we begin, let us hold a common meaning of strategy as “a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term objective”.

Workplace-Communication is somewhat akin to “internal advertising” with clarity on “Above The Line” and “Below The Line” approaches. The underlying purpose of the Workplace-Communication strategy is to keep employees adequately informed all the time regarding the current status of business, future prospects, issues concerning their jobs & careers, market conditions, etc., essential to achieve a greater congruence between organizational & individual, goals & efforts.

So what are the core elements of a sound Workplace-Communication strategy?

Development of the strategy

There is no point in presuming what employees would like to know or should know. It is a common sense as well as a daunting task. While developing a Workplace-Communication strategy, the organization should consider aspects like employee demographics, average education profile, average age profile, cultural diversity, language proficiency, etc. It would be worthwhile to do a dipstick on “what, when & how” employees would like to know about the business of the organization as well as about their jobs & careers. While every employee need not receive all the information, he / she should certainly get what is relevant to him or her at the right time.

Classification of information or data

Having identified “what, when & how” employees would like to know, each piece should be classified in terms of criticality and target audience. Classification should also include who should know what, when, how and from whom. The moot point is that the employees have the first right to information about the organization, and if they come to know about their organization from the external agencies, then the organization stands to lose credibility. This component has a stand alone weight also when the organization does not have a strategy for workplace communication.

Periodicity of communication

Too frequent or too infrequent communication – both are ineffective. Therefore, each piece of information should have a specified relay periodicity. The analogy is with the daily morning newspaper which has to come every morning and a fortnightly tabloid which has to come every fifteen days. Of course, in case of emergencies or special situations, information ought to be relayed immediately. There is no point if the invitee receives the marriage invitation after the couple is back from the honeymoon.

The language of communication

It is vital to convey information in the language which employees comprehend. It cannot be Shakespearean English when you are a Russian company. Relaying information concurrently in English as well as in the vernacular and / or the national language (if English is not the national language) is the most preferred way. It is also helpful to use visuals and videos depending on the topic. When communicated in the vernacular language, it is important to have a transliteration and not translation. The core aim of this component is to reach out to maximum possible employees.

Channels of communication

This is a challenging component of the workplace-communication strategy. It is entirely up to the organization to innovate on this front. The strategy by design should focus only on formal channels as informal channels have different purposes & implications. So what are the options?

Induction program / tour / film and intense (yes, I mean intense) interaction with the senior guys around

Well crafted induction & socialization booklet with visuals and emphasis on values and ethics

Bilingual monthly or quarterly magazine / newsletter (print as well as electronic version) with designer looks

Mass SMS (can be a powerful tool for conveying exciting news)

Updated “Employee Section” on the company’s website (accessible to employees only though their PCs, Laptops, Tablets and Smartphones)

Team or Department review meetings on a monthly basis (each such meeting must start with a brief on the overall business status and then only the departmental agenda should be discussed)

Circulars or Emails (for example, sharing quarterly / annual business results with all the employees one go) from the CEO or a designated senior and displaying a copy or transliterated version at all the conspicuous places

Display of the organization’s vision, mission & values in the most conspicuous places with suitable designs. Such display should catch attention immediately.

Conventional as well as digital boards / panels depending on the time of information

Computer screens / permanent standies

Training events (very intense tool to communicate with employees)

Official blogs / chat platforms

Annual or half-yearly get-together

Official letters given to employees (offer letter, appointment letter, confirmation letter, compensation revision letter, promotion letter, transfer letter, recognition letter, termination letter, etc.)

Feedback process

Do employees get to know about the organization what they need to know? Do they find the content relevant? Are they able to relate their own performance & experiences with that of the organization (barring the impact of external factors)? Are they receiving information as per the promised periodicity? Do they find the language lucid and the media apt? No communication can be effective if it is not two-way and understood properly. Therefore, it is pragmatic to have a periodic check on the effectiveness of the content, channel, periodicity, language, etc.

Core Group

A group of employees should be entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the effective implementation of the communication strategy. The group should include the HR Head, at least one designated business head, Head of Corporate Communication, Head of PR and at least two employee representatives. It would be prudent to have a good balance of male & female members and seniors & juniors. Young guys have ideas & energy and veterans have the wisdom. Like the classification of information or data, this component too has a stand alone weight.

Conclusion

Over-communicating is better than under-communicating. Information in the organizational context is an essential food for thought, idea-generation, discussion, decision and action. So having a well-defined Workplace-Communication strategy and ensuring its effective implementation, is surely vital for the organization’s business & success. Communication could be spicy at times, but its real hallmarks are timeliness, adequacy, realism, language and the reach. Someone has aptly said that, “the skill in the art of communication is crucial to a leader’s success. He / she can accomplish nothing unless he / she can communicate effectively”.

Different Barriers to Effective Workplace Communication

Do you remember playing the “broken down telephone” game as a child? The one where a message was passed down a line of players, each one whispering the message to the next – and then laughing at how drastically the message had changed from the original? It’s not unlike what actually happens in the workplace. Each player in the game represents a different barrier to effective workplace communication.

There are probably as many different barriers to effective workplace communication as there are people trying to communicate. We are, after all, highly complex beings using very sophisticated language skills to duplicate concepts in our minds into the minds of others. Something is bound to go wrong.

In terms of different barriers to effective workplace communication, here are some of the main culprits:

Poor listening skills: It has been said that we listen in order to reply rather than to understand. We occupy our thinking with what we think is being said and what we think about what we think is being said, rather than what is actually being said. When you communicate with someone simply assume that they are not hearing what you are actually saying. Check out their understanding by asking for feedback. Ask them what they have understood you to say, and then correct the misperceptions.

Lack of purpose: You must have attended at least one meeting where you came away wondering what it was all about and what the purpose was? And after that meeting you decided that unless you were compelled by force, you would not attend any further meetings convened by that person. A major barrier to effective communication is that the person is not clear about the purpose of their communication. In effect, they don’t know what response they are looking for. In a busy workplace people do not have time for purposeless words. Before you call that next meeting, or write that email or have that conversation, ask yourself the question: “Why am I communicating this and what do I want this person to do as a result of this?” And then frame your words to ensure that response.

Low levels of rapport: Unless you have built credibility with your listeners, at the back of their mind is the question: “Why should I listen to you?” We are inundated with so much information that we become selective about what we allow in and what we notice. To be allowed into someone else’s thought space we have to build rapport with them so that they regard information coming from us as valuable, useful or credible. Why are you reading this article? At some point you decided that what I have to say here is useful and that I have some credibility – so you have continued to read. Others looked at the title and author name and moved on. We can’t have the necessary level of rapport with everyone. Don’t assume that because you are someone’s manager or colleague you have automatic right of access. Take time to show listening to you is of value, and others will begin to hear.

Too much communication: There’s a traffic jam on the information super-highway, and each day we venture out into it, either willingly or reluctantly. It can’t be avoided. To cope with all the information coming our way, we filter everything to find what we really need – and we ignore the rest. In the workplace we are tempted to send out communications because we can and because it is easy. We send out email circulars about everything, and we hit “reply to all”, not because everyone really needs to see our response but because we think they should take note of what we have to say. Eventually the recipients simply hit “delete” on anything that doesn’t immediately show itself as relevant. To be an effective communicator, be a rare communicator. If you only communicate relevant information and don’t abuse the system to let everyone know about every thought that crosses you mind, recipients will get to know that when something comes from you it is worth sitting up and noticing.

To overcome the different barriers to effective workplace communication, ensure that you are a relevant, rare and interesting communicator. After a while, people will be looking out for your next contribution.

Workplace Communication

Communication is a two-way process. Communication is successful only when the receiver understands the message intended by the sender.

Effective workplace communication is very essential for smooth and efficient functioning of an organization. The manager should have proper communication with his subordinates, else it will lead to absenteeism amongst workers, lower productivity, development of grapevine networks in an organization. There should be two-way communication in an organization. Manager should have personal contact with his subordinates. He should clearly communicate goals and policies of the organization to his subordinates and should get feedback on these goals and policies.

Feedback plays a very important role in the communication process. It enables us to evaluate the effectiveness of our message. Giving the subordinates chance to provide feedback is important for maintaining a open communication climate. The manager must create an environment that encourages feedback. For example: after communicating a job assignment, he should ask “Do all of you understand?”, “Is that clear?”, “Do you have any doubts?”, etc. This will ensure that whether his message is understood or not.

Both upward and downward communications are important. Upward communication will keep manager informed about employees job satisfaction, employees feelings for their peers and about organization in general. Downward communication is important so that manager can give job instructions, explain the roles and policies and explain the issues which need immediate attention. Similarly we have horizontal communication in an organization which is also very important. It is essential that people working at same level should have effective communication amongst them so that there is co-ordination between them. Communication at workplace should be clear, concise and specific. There should be effective use of body language at workplace. Body language reflects the position of a person in the organization. A manager should make effective use of his body language while communicating with his subordinates