Communication Give and Take

Managers should create opportunities for employees to ask questions that can be answered and vice versa.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson, communication is the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. If management is asked why employees are resistant to change, it’s because the reasons for the change haven’t been communicated enough. If employees refuse to change, it’s because they haven’t been communicated with adequately. Neither problem nor solution requires asking specific questions, or even basic questions like, “Do you understand?” More often than not, communication carpet bombing is seen as the only approach that works.

I’ve worked in places that sent emails, flyers, posters, newsletters, enclosures in paychecks and still had “mandatory” meetings to relate what ends up being a trivial bit of information. I’ve also worked in places that have made major policy decisions with barely a mention. More often than not, failure in communication travels down the line, too. Whatever is told to managers is expected to be related verbatim to employees—but managers might be left in the dark as much as anybody.

The reason for the communication carpet bombing is seldom made clear, but often enough, employees suspect it is to punish many for the sins of a few—for example, new parking, dress or email policies. It can sometimes seem that the more trivial the offense, the greater the offensive.

That’s a pity, because communication at work about work is important. Those doing the work are left to communicate what they consider important (another good question to ask people) amongst all the bureaucratic white noise. We are all left with important decisions to be made about what to read, listen to and learn. The fact is that none of us have the luxury to pay attention to everything.

In the laboratory, information is often important because it relates directly to patient care. A reagent lot recall, for example, catches attention because it can affect current lots, ordering and patient results. It’s nice to be able to read emails about upcoming hospital events, new policies from HR and other organization-wide news, but our energy is often consumed with the mundane details of day-to-day operations, especially that which affects our working environment.

The reason can be obvious, too, when people specifically ask for information: Why are we getting this instrument? Is that position being filled? Are health benefits changing? Too often a need that doesn’t exist is assumed or created when those that are unfilled are left to ignorance and rumor. That’s a pity, too, because answering questions can sometimes be simple. Asking is even easier.

All this points to the obvious: communication is a give and take. Managers should create opportunities for employees to ask questions that can be answered and vice versa. Beginnings and ends of staff meetings are good chances to do this. It’s also a good idea to invite other leaders in your hospital to your meetings. We all tend to believe information that comes directly from those responsible. This simple, direct approach builds trust and teamwork, but the questions have to be sincere and answers truthful for it to work.

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