Magazine article Supervisory Management

Overcoming the Obstacles to Communication

Magazine article Supervisory Management

Overcoming the Obstacles to Communication

Article excerpt

Overcoming the Obstacles to Communication

You've been meaning to talk to one of your employees for some time now, and you're finally going to do so. The employee has not been performing satisfactorily for the past month, and you want to change things before they become irreparable. You call him into your office, close the door, and begin to speak. Will you really get your message across?

Ensuring effective communication on a one-on-one basis requires three distinct phases: preparation, action, and follow-up. Let's look at each in detail.


The above scenario does not tell us whether you've prepared yourself for the discussion, but if you're like most managers, you probably believe that just thinking about and being aware of a situation is preparation enough. Not so.

In order to make certain that you cover all aspects of a subject, you must take the time beforehand to plan what you want to say. In the case of an unsatisfactory employee, for instance, it's not enough to know that his work has been slipping. Think about when you first noticed the problem, list examples of the problem on a piece of paper, and be prepared to explain what changes in the quality of performance you are requiring.

Mentally go over the employee's work history for the past few months to see if you can determine when the change occurred. Pinpoint episodes that caused problems in the employee's performance and prepare yourself to discuss them. Put yourself in the employee's position and anticipate how he will react to what you are saying. Then try to prepare a proper response.

In all fairness, it is best to allow the other person to have time to prepare for the discussion as well. If you are planning to talk to someone about something that may become confrontational, or for which the other person may need to obtain information, you should let that person know in advance what it is you want to discuss with him or her.


Preparation is the first phase of effective communication, but it will all be wasted unless action is taken to ensure that the actual discussion takes place under optimum conditions. Here, there are several factors to work on.

The setting. Hold a one-on-one meeting in a quiet, private place where there will be no interruptions. If you do not have a secretary or an assistant who will answer your phone or head off visitors, try using a small conference room or an empty office where you will not be disturbed.

The agenda. When you begin your discussion, identify for the other person immediately what it is you wish to talk about. Make an agenda for yourself and stick with it. Avoid going off on tangents. If the discussion is a confrontational one, chances are the other person may try to get off the subject and onto one with which he or she feels more secure. If necessary, interrupt the individual and say, "We're getting off the subject. Let's go back to what we were saying before."

The language. The English language unfortunately leaves a great deal of room for ambiguity. Just take a look in Roget's Thesaurus if you question that. There are so many different ways to say the same thing, and so many times people have different interpretations of the same words. Language can also become a problem when it involves buzzwords, acronyms, and technical terminology. …

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