Comms is not a ‘soft’ function

Published on March 30, 2022   9 min
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Hi. I'm David Buchanan. I'm an Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior at Cranfield University School of Management in the UK. Now this talk is about change communications. The main argument is that comms is not a 'soft' function.
The ability to communicate and persuade orally and in writing is top of the list of skills that employers look for when they're hiring graduates. We think of communication as a soft skill. Communicating with others is something that we all think we're pretty good at. It comes naturally. For the organisation, the stakes are higher, because communication is key to performance. From a global survey of 650 organisations, the American consulting company, Willis Towers Watson, found that those with effective communications were three times more likely to show superior financial performance compared with those with poor communications. In other words, communication can help an organisation to make or to lose money. Comms is not a soft function.
Communication involves a transmitter sending a message through an appropriate channel to a receiver. To do this, the transmitter has to code the message in a way that the receiver can understand. This involves a choice of language and words, and also the tone and style of the message. The sixth sense of communication thus depends on the accuracy of the receiver's decoding. Did they understand the language and the implications of the message? When we communicate face to face, we get instant feedback to check that we have been understood. But when we communicate through other channels, feedback can be delayed, distorted or nonexistent. Communication often fails where transmitters and receivers of different frames of reference don't share experience and understanding, even if they share a common language. When communicating details of a major change initiative, therefore, we can't assume that all of the recipients of the message will have the same understanding of each other and of the transmitter. For you, as a manager, this organisational change is exciting and will contribute to company profits. For me, as an employee, this change would make my skills obsolete and ultimately lose my job. Perceptual filters play a key role in our decoding. For example, this can involve a readiness or predisposition to hear or not to hear particular information. Preoccupations that divert our attention can also lead us to filter out information. We can all remember an occasion when somebody told us something, we did hear them say it, but we were thinking about something else at the time, and the message didn't sink in. It was filtered out. Communication would be simple to describe, but this is clearly an error-prone process.