Research indicates that managers spend 50 to 80 percent of their total time communicating in one way or the other. This isn’t surprising, since communication is so critical to everything that goes on in an organization. Without effective communication, there can be little or no performance management, innovation, understanding of clients, or coordination of effort. And without effective communication, it’s difficult to manage the expectations of those in a position to make decisions.

We don’t have to think very long or hard about managers we’ve had who didn’t communicate well. More than likely, these managers were unable to set an organizational climate where communication was managed effectively. This makes sense, since a manager who communicates ineffectively and doesn’t encourage effective organizational communication is unlikely to hear about it. Poor communication is self-perpetuating, because it eliminates an important feedback loop. Staff tends to be reluctant to share their concerns about communication because they don’t perceive the manager as receptive.

In short, you may be fostering poor communication and never know it. You may see the symptoms, but unless you’re looking carefully, you may not identify your own involvement in the problem. What can you do about it?

• Actively solicit feedback about your own communication and communication within the organization. Consider including these questions in your performance management process or staff meetings: when we talk, are you generally clear about what I am saying? Do you think we communicate well around here? Do you have any ideas about how we could communicate better?
• Assess your own communication knowledge and understanding.
• Work with your staff to define how you should communicate in the organization and set goals for performance improvement. Develop consensus regarding: how disagreements should be handled, how horizontal (staff to staff) communication should work, how vertical (manager to staff, staff to manager) communication should work, and what information should be available and when.
• Look at the structure of your organization and how it impacts communication. Indirect communication—otherwise known as the grapevine—is notorious for causing problems. Look at increasing direct communication where the person with the message goes directly to the receiver.
• Learn about and use active listening techniques. This will set a tone and contribute to a positive communication climate.

Where do you stack up when thinking about your own communications skills? Managers who are good listeners and exhibit good communication skills have a direct impact on the success of their areas of responsibility. If you want to improve communication, ensure that you and your staff have the skills necessary to communicate effectively. Second, you play a critical role in fostering and nurturing a climate that’s characterized by open communication. Without this climate, all the skills in the world will be wasted. Finally, you must bring communication to the forefront of organization attention. If you make the effort to improve communication, your staff will recognize it’s important. IBI