Communication: It’s a Contract
By: Helen Wilkie
|Helen Wilkie is a professional speaker, consultant and author specializing in PROFITABLE APPLIED COMMUNICATION. She is the author of "Message Received and Understood!", "The Hidden Profit Center" and other books, booklets, CDs and tapes. www.mhwcom.com www.HiddenProfitCenter.com For information on Helen's services and learning tools, reach her at 416-966-5023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the course of my work as a speaker and communication specialist, I often
hear the complaint, “There’s no communication around here!” It’s usually
expressed in tones of disgust and frustration. However, I have made two
If management is serious about running an organization that truly communicates
at all levels, internally and externally, it must take steps to create
- When asked to specify what they mean by “no communication”, most people
can’t. They do, however, blame management.
- The opinion widely held throughout the rank and file is usually contrary
to the belief of senior management, which is often oblivious to the problem.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, “The main difficulty with communication
is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” It’s an illusion we can
no longer afford in the constantly changing business world of today.
- Genuinely make the commitment
It’s easy to pay lipservice to a communicating organization and, unfortunately,
many do. Like so many other disciplines in business, communication practices
start at the top.
One good opportunity for real communication lies in the Mission and Vision
Statements. Whose mission? Whose vision? Too often, these statements are
created by public relations people and sent down from the top like a commandment
from on high. The lofty ideals they express, however, are more likely to
have practical results if they come about through a process that includes
those who are expected to live by them, and are communicated in a meaningful
- Communication always has two sides
There is no such thing as one-way communication: for every piece of outgoing
information, someone somewhere must receive and understand the message.
Otherwise, there is no communication. I call this The Communication Contract™.
Clause 1: Written Communication
If you send a message in writing to someone, either within your organization
or outside, you must express your message clearly, concisely and in language
appropriate to that particular reader, so that he or she can understand
it on first reading. That is the writer’s part of the contract.
If you send your letter or memo to me, I must read it with enough attention,
concentration and respect that I receive and understand the message as
you sent it. That is the reader’s part of the contract.
Unless both parties fulfill their parts, communication does not take place.
Clause 2: Oral Communication
When you make a business presentation, or make a point during a meeting,
you must speak clearly, confidently and as interestingly as possible, so
that the essence of your message stands out unmistakably. That is the speaker’s
part of the contract.
While you speak, I must decide to listen, for listening is a conscious
act. I must ask appropriate questions to clarify my understanding, and
provide you with acknowledgement and feedback that tells you I have heard
and understood. That is the listener’s part of the contract.
Until both parties fulfill their parts, communication does not take place.
Clause 3: Non-verbal Communication
Individuals and organizations constantly send non-verbal messages through
their actions and behavior. Managers who keep their office doors closed
send a message—whether intentionally or not—that they are too busy to deal
with employees. Companies who operate authentic employee suggestion programs,
with appropriate rewards and implementation mechanisms, send a message
that they honor their employees’ intelligence and value their contribution.
Behavior is the outward-bound part of the contract.
We all “learn” what we choose to believe from the behavior and actions
of others. If an employee regularly arrives late and takes many days off,
the manager “learns” that the person is not reliable. If a company has
downsized substantially in each of the past five years and expects the
same level of productivity from those remaining, those employees “learn”
to disbelieve the company’s statement that its employees are its most important
asset. Learning is the inward-bound part of the contract.
Only when both parties fulfill their parts does communication truly take
- These skills can—and must—be learned by everyone
If you are an executive or senior manager, first look carefully and as
honestly as possible to see if you have these skills, and whether you take
the trouble to use them. In particular, how are your listening and learning
skills? Research constantly tells us employees perform at a higher level
when management listens to them.
Then take a look at communication throughout the organization. How, where
and why is communication breaking down? Which skills are missing and in
Take steps to remedy the problem through training and coaching. Monitor progress and its effect on productivity as well as morale.