Communication Breakdown

When I turned the tap on yesterday afternoon, the water that poured out was a deep, dark and nasty brown … yuck!  There have been articles in the local paper about problems with brown water, so my initial thought was “well, I guess it’s finally our turn.”

However, when I mentioned the brown water problem to my husband later in the day, he let me know it wasn’t a city problem. Apparently, one of the two hot water tanks that service the 24 units in our condo building was replaced.  How did he know that?  Because he’d been copied on a reply from the management company to a complaint emailed from one of the unit holders.  The response included the little tidbit of information that not only had the hot water tank been replaced, but a common side effect of the replacement was brown water. The fix was easy … let the water run until it becomes clear.

Why was this information not communicated to the condo owners ahead of time?  One simple email or notice slipped under the door would have let everyone know what was happening and what the fix was.  Because that information was not shared, unit owners were not prepared for deep, dark and nasty brown water pouring from the taps. That resulted in emails and phone calls to the management company that then needed to be addressed.  The concern, the emails, the phone calls … all could have been avoided simply by communicating with the unit holders ahead of time.

Sadly, this is just the latest example of poor communication by the management company and it’s causing frustration and anger on the part of some of the unit holders. It’s also sad that this problem isn’t limited to this one company.  Poor communication or lack of communication is a common cause of conflict in many workplaces.

The reasons for not communicating with employees and customers are many.  Here are just a few:

  • They won’t understand.
  • It’s complicated.
  • They won’t like what I have to say so I won’t say it.
  • It will just cause more questions and I don’t have time to deal with them.
  • They don’t need to know.
  • What they don’t know won’t hurt them.
  • The change is minor. They probably won’t even notice.
  • It’s not important.

Here’s the reality.

  1. Withholding information breaks current relationships and prevents new relationships, built on trust, from forming.
  2. Withholding information starts rumour mills.  People are going to talk anyway. Doesn’t it make more sense to have them talking about what’s real, instead of imagined?  Sharing bad or complicated news gives you the opportunity to address questions and concerns up front and in the end, that takes less time than having to deal with those questions when the bad or complicated news was heard through the notoriously incorrect rumour mill.
  3. What’s minor to you may not be minor to others.  Don’t make that assessment for others.
  4. Withholding information ticks people off.  What may have been minor becomes major when people feel you don’t think they are important enough to need to know.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  It builds trust and demonstrates you value and respect the other person.  As an added bonus, you just might avoid some of those annoyed emails, phone calls and attitude from the people giving you a reason to come in to work every day … your employees and your customers.

What You Give is What You Get

“How you think about your customers is how you will treat them.”  This sentiment, expressed in Bob Farrell’s “Give ‘em the Pickle” video, refers to the attitude that guest service professionals have towards their customers.

This expression also applies to supervisor’s and manager’s attitude towards their employees.  There are too many supervisors who seem to think their employees are gossiping, lazy, time thieves. They watch employees like a hawk, waiting to pounce on any infraction of the long list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” rules.  And when an employee finds a new transgression that has not yet been outlined in detail, a new policy is written and implemented “effective immediately” that penalizes all employees, including the majority who dutifully toe the line.

This type of mistrust, lack of respect and blanket punishment creates a culture of fear.  Creativity, enthusiasm and relationships die.  Mistrust, apathy and back-stabbing flourish.

Yes, there are some employees who are gossiping, lazy, time thieves, but they are in the minority.  The answer is to deal with those individuals, and to then continue to respect and value the honest, hard-working employees who contribute to an organizations success.

Supervisors and managers that assume the worst of their employees will get what they expect.  Supervisors and managers that assume the best of their employees will also get what they expect.  Expect the best, respect your team and reap the rewards.

Harsh words and poor reasoning never settle anything.  – Chinese Proverb