Don't lose the sight of objectives: being successful in business communication

June 5, 2020

Don't lose the sight of objectives: being successful in business communication

Atsuko Kaneko
Associate Professor, School of Business Administration,
Meiji University
 

There has been increasing interest in communication skills in the workplace. Those who feel lack communication skills might become anxious. So, what is communication in business?
Two aspects of business communication

The question of what is communication is difficult to answer in a single phrase. Communication is something familiar to everyone and is used with various implications depending on individuals and situations concerned. Communication is sometimes defined as the act of conveying and exchanging messages such as intentions and information using language and other means. However, we would like to consider communication in a broader sense when thinking about issues of everyday life.

For example, Peter Drucker, a world-famous management theorist, calls communication the “interaction between personalities.” We can also consider communication to be happening when someone is beside us or when we are with someone, even without exchanging words. If we feel connected with someone who is simply present next to us, and we can be a good influence on each other, we might call that communication.

Communication is key to building an interpersonal relationship. Good communication is indispensable for building relationships with people close to you, such as family and friends, and colleagues.

I specialize in management communication, a field that studies communication in the workplace to achieve tasks together with people. In this field of study, we also focus on the execution of tasks, as well as building relationships through communication.

People who work in the same organization share common objectives.

The shared objectives are at various levels from company-wide, department-wide, to single-team level and they include tasks such as increasing sales, raising customer satisfaction, and producing quality products. Many people gather and work together in organizations intending to carry out these tasks and to achieve goals.

Workers can enjoy each other’s company – an aspect of communication often seen among family and friends – but there is another aspect of communication in business.

Communication required in the workplace is summarized in two aspects: how to manage interpersonal relationships and how to carry out tasks.

For the sixteenth consecutive year, recruiters of Japanese companies have cited communication skills as the number one prerequisite for students seeking a job.

Different individuals or different organizations may have different understandings of communication skills, but based on research, communication skills in business contexts include carrying out tasks and building relationships with good language skills.

One misconception is that having good language skills means being eloquent and able to manipulate complex long reports. However, in business contexts, you will be credited more to articulating your points concisely, rather than being talkative.

Presentation is considered to be one of the important communication skills. Some people place greater importance on giving messages, information, and explanation. But in business settings, interaction with clients after the presentation would be more important in closing a deal.

One-way communication does not work to achieve tasks together with other people. Lengthy presentations, as well as more-than-enough information, do not benefit listeners. It may look good on the surface, but it will not bring recognition to our communication skills in the workplace.

Newly hired employees are not the only ones who feel anxious about communication in the workplace. Many experienced workers also sometimes get confused and worried.

Communication to carry out tasks

One of the two important aspects of business communication is a focus on tasks. This may sound too obvious, but we easily forget about this.

For example, let’s assume that we have a subordinate who often arrive late at work. Perhaps we may want to yell at him/her, “You should be punctual! How many times do I have to tell you?” Being late for work is a problem, and it needs to be corrected. However, blowing up emotionally and yelling at our subordinates would not be the most effective way to change his/her behavior.

Our subordinates might not have the same concept of punctuality as we do. Some people always make sure to arrive at the assigned place ten minutes before the appointed time while others might regard a delay of five minutes as punctual.

Every one of us has different experiences, education, and personality. Realities in front of your eyes would be different from the realities of others, due to those differences. The assumption of communication varies among individuals.

It is probably better to think that the assumption of communication has some deviations. During the years of high economic growth, full-time male workers dominated the workplace in Japan. As they worked together on shared tasks day after day and night after night, they naturally knew what to do without much verbal communication. They shared assumptions of communication or group norm.

However, we expect more diversity in the workplace which includes something visible such as gender and age and less visible such as forms of employment. Also, more workers are engaged in other than their company work such as caring for children or elderly parents.

The number of staff members is getting smaller due to a labor shortage or rationalization. There are fewer opportunities for young subordinates to observe and learn from their supervisors because they do not work physically together throughout the day – which had previously been more common in the workplace in Japan.

We cannot expect strong high-context culture where tasks are carried out harmoniously without much verbal communication. We need to communicate more explicitly – sometimes, we might even need to spell everything out. If you are telling someone, “How many times did I tell you,” it would indicate that you did not communicate effectively.

Everyone has a different role in an organization and everyone has different perspectives from different backgrounds. Naturally, it is not surprising that some friction arises in the workplace. There can be no point arguing which perspective is right. Rather, we should focus on exchanging our perspectives and information in a workshop-like setting, with the assumption that the realities we face are different.

Some say that managers spend 70 percent of their working hours on communication. If we have a good command of communication with colleagues or clients, we can also reduce our working hours and hopefully have better work time. As Peter Drucker suggested, to communicate well in the workplace, we should focus on the common goal.

Be aware of different cultures

Another important aspect of business communication is how to manage interpersonal relationships. It is said that interpersonal relationships in the workplace are a major factor when people are leaving jobs.

A safe atmosphere is needed in the workplace, and courtesy should be extended to maintain a good relationship. However, excessive expectations for communication would be a problem in the workplace.

If you are having a hard time communicating with your subordinates, it may be because you place unrealistically high expectations on your communications or relationships with subordinates.

Intimate interpersonal relationships would be good, but managers should not forget about the tasks and goals of the organization.

Young workers also should be aware of the goals and keep expectations on communication moderate. Their supervisors may be more experienced and may have better solutions, but he/she does not know everything about the precise tasks of his/her subordinates, nor is he/she superhuman who always has the best right answers.

It depends on the organizational culture and the nature of tasks, but it is getting more important for the staff member to take charge of the tasks. He/she could expect some pieces of hints or encouragement, though. A worker with excellent communication skills should know with whom and which information they should share. Such a person would not blame or count on other people excessively. He/she would exchange messages and carry out tasks together with other people on the assumption we are different.



* The information contained herein is current as of April 2020.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.


Profile

Atsuko Kaneko
Associate Professor, School of Business Administration, Meiji University
 
Research fields:
Management communication, organizational behavior

Research themes:
Management communication, soft skills, global human resources development

Main books and papers:
◆“Shokuba de Motomerareru Komyunikeeshon Noryoku: Shinsotsu Saiyo Mensetsu karano Shisa” (Communication Skills Required in the Workplace: Implications from Employment Interviews with New University Graduates) The Journal of International Business Communication No. 76 pp. 61-65,
Japan Business Communication Association, 2017
◆“A Comparative Review of Communication Competence Measures for the Workplace” Global Studies No. 1 pp. 85-92, 2017
◆“‘Sono Hanashi, Kiitenai-yo’ to Iwarenai Tsutae-kata” (How to Communicate So That People Won’t Say “I Haven’t Heard It”) Nippon Jitsugyo Publishing, 2017
◆“‘De, Kekkyoku Nani ga Iitai-no?’ to Iwarenai Hanashi-kata” (How to Speak So That People Won’t Say “So, What’s Your Point?”) Nippon Jitsugyo Publishing, 2014



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