In Praise of Communication

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In Praise of Communication

Today’s communication is information sharing but tomorrow’s world demands a revival of communication as it was.
Everybody unanimously admits that communication is the tool for effective implementation of any work. Management happens only if there is effective communication among the various actors. Even if the work concerns self the communication has to be with the self within you. Discussions, debates, dialogue, dialects, interactions, interfaces and conversations are all synonyms of communication in various forms. 
The dictionary defines communication as, 1) to impart 2) to share 3) to convey 4) to transmit 5) to open into each other 6) to participate7)to exchangeinformation / knowledge between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behaviours. This communication is not a characteristic of homosapiens only; the entire cosmos whether the sun, moon, stars, earth, animals, vegetation and plants and those invisible organisms, all survive via communication. Intra cosmic relationships and the signs and symbols of their communication is a vast subject the existence of which all of us feel, but is perhaps beyond explanation for mundane people like us. The value of communication cannot be overlooked be it related to business, society or even the personal.
Communication is a very democratic concept as it accepts the existence of others, their voice and the necessity and advisability to listen to them. It is said in management parlance that “the executive’s ability lies in deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work”. The origin of communication in the managerial sphere starts here. What to do, how to do, who to do, when to do, where to do are important decisions that executives at every level have to communicate to others to get things done. 
Communication to be effective has to be such that the people on the other side not only understand it in letter but in spirit also. Hence communication becomes an art as well as a science. Depending upon the situation and the circumstances, communication has to be in writing, oral, formal, informal or a combination of any of them. The style of communication also depends on the level of receptivity of the listener.
Person to person or person to group or group to group communication requires different approaches to be effective. Admiration, instruction, motivation, admonition all fall in the sphere of individual communication which needs caution and sensitive handling whereas communication in meetings, debates, brainstorming sessions require the skill to churn out the best from others. Such meetings are two way affairs. Effectiveness and productivity of any communication does not lie in the communication process per se but how effectively the content has been conveyed and understood. The language of communication, therefore, has to be at the level of the listeners and should vary as per the situation and purpose. Communication verbal or in writing does not carry only the content of the word but also conveys the emotions behind them. Frigid communication does not work.
It is a pity that though academically we admire and appreciate the necessity of effective communication at every level, in practice it is “more honoured in the breach than in obedience”. Most of our low productivity, poor performance and conflicts can be attributed to lack / or poor quality of communication that exists today at the enterprise level to national levels. The saddest story is that we do not acknowledge this shortcoming in us and hence show no initiatives to overcome it. The business schools do discuss communication as a concept, but the practical skills and the breaking out of the personality inhibitions that impede communication are not taught. Since today’s management studies are more analytical the emotions that play a very meaningful and positive role in good governance at any level are lost sight of. Working together in a team requires the glue of friendship which comes from conversation and communication.
Inditex CEO Pablo Isla from Spain said in an interview “I am gradually learning to be less rational and more emotional”. Motivating people and generating a sense of spirit inside a company are essential parts of the CEO’s role. We need to appeal to the emotions of our employees to help create an environment where they can innovate. The connectivity among individuals, the social networks, the norms of reciprocity and the trust worthiness that arise from such forms of communication is important for business as well as the wider society. Today communication is packaged as a strategy for achieving targets, goals and building brands. A good presentation to a group will challenge the audience to explore, discuss and suggest alternative views on the subject.
Communication as a medium over the years has undergone a sea change where its scope, which used to be finite, has become almost infinite through the internet and the cloud. It has taken a quantum jump but in becoming so communication has lost some of its quality and emotional appeal. It informs but it does not engage. It may have saved time but it has failed to put the team together.
It is upon every organisation to make a conscious effort to put into practice a communication strategy within itself not only for inter and intra departmental communication but also for exploring the hidden assets of knowledge and ideas bubbling within the employees. The communication strategy will also stress on projecting the image of the company, products and services to all the stakeholders and collect feedback from them and the society as well which will help revisit and reshape their future agenda. The tools that the enterprises employ, even though they are normal and standard, can be made more effective and productive by structuring them more professionally.
1. Meeting /committees: Jokingly it is said that if any decision is to be delayed or not taken at all, call a meeting. But it is not true. Most of the decisions today are taken collectively in meetings. Parliament, assembly, councils are all exalted platforms for meetings at the higher level. Meetings to be fruitful and productive need to be structured professionally. Though standard guidelines are available for conducting meetings and the committees, normally they frame their own rules and regulations. However a few tips may be useful as a ready reference. In industry and commerce, meetings serve many different purposes and have different amounts of power to make or influence decisions. Most managers find themselves at some time or another attending so many meeting that they are left with no time to attend to their core activities. A meeting can be 1) briefing on progress 2) consultative and 3) Decision making depending upon the purpose for which it is called.
A meeting has three phases, a) initiation b) maturation and c) decision making. Each phase has its purpose. Initiation is to discuss the proposal, the idea it is exploring and brainstorming. So more specialists, experts need to participate. At maturation the collected information, knowledge, evidence are reviewed. This is the crucial phase when the steps forward are decided. The last phase of decision making is attended by the decision makers only when the decisions are sealed. Sometimes the experts are also called in for consultations.
Each phase has different levels of participation, meticulous preparation and a decisive output in terms of the next step. Interaction, especially with those who are knowledgeable but are shy to put forward their views need encouragement. The conflict resolutions which normally make or mar the effectiveness of meetings normally depends upon the skill and the preparedness of the chairman. The minority views must be given due importance. The order in which the agenda is discussed also has a bearing on the fruitfulness of a meeting and it is upon the chairman to set the tone as well as the order of the agenda depending upon the preparation, urgency and the full set of information available on the issue. 
Without a strong and skilled secretariat to fall back upon any meeting will not be in a position to take a proper decision. It is a pity that meetings which should have made decision making easier have recently become a platform for procrastination, conflict and indecisiveness.
2. Public Relations: For any business enterprise to survive in today’s competitive environment effective public relations is most vital as it promotes and provides that extra touch to the company but more importantly wards off rumours that the competitors have planted in the market. The rumours have the potential not only to tear at a company’s credibility but sometimes to catapult it to financial disaster.
An effective forceful and well thought out communication-strategy can prepare a code of conduct for dealing with such exigencies. The communication strategy will take stock of the rumours and as per the company’s code of conduct in such circumstances will take remedial action. The neutralizing tactics as given in an article in the World Executive digest reads as follows:
Neutralizing Tactics: Here are guidelines to reduce rumor generation, belief, or dissemination: 
• Ignore impotent rumors.This approach is only usable when there are no queries to management about the rumors. Once a question has been asked, however, management must respond: Either confrm or deny the rumor, or refuse to comment.
• Confirm the truth. Rumors often contain a grain of truth. One way to reduce rumor generation is confirm the part that is true.
• Do comment. A “no comment” response to an inquiry is a comment- it communicates that “we don’t want to talk about it” or, worse yet, “we have something to hide.” Provide a plausible reason. Or ridicule the rumor-----       dismiss it as so obviously absurd that it doesn’t warrant a defense.
• Refute effectively. A denial based on truth stands the best chance of diminishing someone’s belief in a rumor. One way to refute effectively is to designate a spokesperson to represent the organization. As a rule, higher level sources are considered more credible.
• Denial should be brief and concise. Those that are long and vague are unconvincing and sound like a cover-up.
Differentiation is the key to success for any business enterprise in this cluttered market and freshness of communication style is the key to it.
3. In house communication: Communication to be useful has to become a form of knowledge and skill. Data has to become information and by exchanging information within the team then only can it add value to our work. In this perspective in house communication has a key important role for which a few guidelines may be appropriate.
a. Meet for five minutes every day with those who report to you, ask them what they did yesterday and what they have planned for today.
b. It is not necessary that communication with the employee has to be an informal meeting only. They may be more comfortable in a stand-up review meeting on the spot or even while walking through the work stations. This saves time in terms of a long-winded presentation and the stress of formality.
c. Return and respond to calls and communication both ways up and down. Responding builds trust.
d. In-house connectivity should be less formal and bureaucratic more humane and one to one.
e. The approach should be to go to issues rather than wait for issues to come to you.
Communication is for changing the status quo. It is aptly said that “Treat person as he is and he will remain so treat him as he could be and he will become so”. This miracle can be had only by communication.
Today’s world boasts of global connectivity through social media but in the process of its spread it has become mechanical. It has lost that communication which is supposed to be more organic, personal, intimate, full of passion, cold and warm which connects a person to another person in a relationship. Today’s communication is information sharing but tomorrow’s world demands a revival of communication as it was. Is it not an opportunity for today’s social media technology?
The writer is the chairman of Nimbus Group.

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