Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Communication competence matters

Over the past years, I have encountered situations that suggest employees’ communication abilities have a direct, though subtle, relationship with their overall performance, regardless of the nature of their work. The abilities also have a bearing on their personal and organisation’s image.

In this discussion, communication competence refers to the skills involved in disseminating a message, orally or in writing. 

Poor message delivery, be it through a letter, an e-mail, a telephone call or a public presentation, creates a loathsome image of yourself and of the organisation you represent. Although one's communication abilities is not a measure of their actual job performance, the reality is that failure to communicate clearly raises questions about your expertise in a given area. 

Some people comfort themselves with the false belief that all that matters is the content of their message and care less about the quality of their communication. This is suicidal.

Apart from the brutal damage it causes on people’s personal and organisational image, poor communication skills have a significant bearing on employees’ work performance in many ways. 

Due to employees’ lack of communication competence, some deliverables are always delayed. For instance, it takes some longer than necessary to draft a one page communication (memo, report etc) due to lack of confidence in their writing or due to lack of knowledge of how to confront the task. Poor performance rating is the sad consequence.

Employees with weak communication skills and are aware of their deficiency often fail to contribute to organisational growth. Participating in meetings, discussions and in other work related activities requiring them to communicate scares them. Often, such people fail to seize opportunities through which they could showcase their abilities or float the brilliant ideas they could have. For example, such people decline offers to facilitate a session at a meeting or to direct a ceremony.

When they are aware of their communication deficiencies, employees already feel defeated even before bringing their ideas to others. Often, persuading team mates or superiors to buy in your proposal for something requires a firm command of communication tools, including language - English in the case of most work places in Malawi. 

A good idea lost in a myriad of language and communication lapses reduces its acceptability chances. Either your team mates or superior will dismiss your idea outright or they will assure you the proposal will be considered ‘in the next meeting or discussion’. That is a dismissal veiled in diplomacy so you do not get demoralized.  When that happens, chances are you failed to communicate. This is not to suggest that all rejections are a result of poor communication, though. Sometimes it is just that the idea itself has little merit.
Team members in a meeting.

However, to an extent that you could not be aware of, your credibility as a professional and the acceptability of your ideas are dependent upon the quality of the communication involved. The ability to communicate well, perfectly, is therefore key to your career. Ever wonder why many job vacancy announcements include excellent communication skills as an important attribute regardless of the nature of the job advertised? 

Regardless of the level in your career, it is never too late to embark on a communication skills improvement programme, in whatever form. Self-study is one. This works effectively especially if you are aware of your own deficiencies. Another is seeking help from a communication expert. The advantage of expert help is that they can easily diagnose your language and communication imperfections and recommend an effective remedial programme for you.

At the organisational level, superiors may not be able to detect how weak communication competence among their team members affects their performance. For instance, the superiors may not realise that delayed deliverables such as reports by their juniors are, sometimes, a result of distressing and pitiful struggles in putting things together in narrative form. The juniors could be spending hours and days on a writing task just because they cannot find the right words with which they can deliver their message.

Organisations, therefore, need to make a deliberate move to carry out communication competence audits to detect the real communication abilities of their team members. As they do this, the organisations should also realise that communication deficiencies cannot just affect employees’ performance but that these are also a Public Relations risk. 

Communication is a skill. It requires continuous learning. Even communication professionals have to continue acquiring new skills. You or your team should also endeavour to enhance your communication competence.