Lisagor: Sending mixed messages

A list of the ten most common barriers to good communications.

Next to figuring out how to program a VCR, clearly communicating with others is perhaps the most difficult task confronting managers. The VCR may quickly become a relic of the past, but the need for effective communications is here to stay.

Managers can dramatically improve the health of their relationships by reflecting on their communications style. Some of the barriers to good communication I have experienced — and perpetrated — are:

    1. Shooting the messenger. Responding negatively to the bearer of bad news ensures that employees will never speak up again. Try to show appreciation for the courage it took to come forward.

    2. Not matching words to actions. People usually believe what they see, not what they hear. Employees respect and enthusiastically support managers who "walk the walk." Are your actions consistent with the directions you have given?

    3. Focusing only on yourself. Managers who turn every conversation or meeting into a chance to talk about themselves can suck the energy from a workplace. They send the message that employees aren't important. Focus on others' needs and develop your listening skills.

    4. Not keeping an open mind. An honest dialogue implies that both parties are open to altering their points of view. Interrupting is often the sign of a closed mind. Managers who complete employees' sentences might as well work alone.

    5. Sending mixed messages. Organizations that send conflicting signals de-motivate their staff. Try communicating a few main objectives and sticking to them. Managers who make everything seem important or routinely switch priorities rarely succeed.

    6. Generalizing. Comments such as "you're always late" or "you never return e-mail messages" don't encourage problem-solving. Instead of making others feel inferior, work with your employees to fix problems.

    7. Using one-size-fits-all approaches. Rewarding employees for something they don't care about is ineffective. Take the time to understand your employees' personal and career desires, and tailor rewards accordingly.

    8. Resorting to sarcasm and name calling. People rarely respond positively to negative criticism. A tendency toward this kind of behavior is a sure sign of management dysfunction.

    9. Asking "what can I get out of you?" Every conversation shouldn't center on what your employees can do for you. What is preventing them from getting their jobs done? Do they understand what is expected of them? Are their needs being met?

    10. Saying "not today — I'm too busy." A manager's inability to regularly interact with others can immobilize an organization. Leave your door open and get out of your office. Deal directly with conflicts and obstacles, and keep in mind that projects rarely run smoothly. A manager's job is to work side-by-side with employees, not look down on them from above.

Lisagor founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help information technology executives manage growth. He is program chairman for FCW Events' Government IT Summit in Seattle and the Program Management Summit in Washington, D.C. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at