Effective communication is the key

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Person 1: "Hey, did you get my message and get that task done for the boss?" Person 2: "No, when did you call?" Person 1: "I didn't call. I sent you an e-mail!" Does this sound familiar? Have you ever felt like saying, or actually said, "Just because you sent an e-mail doesn't mean I got it, and obviously it wasn't important enough for you to follow up?" Inter-personal communication consumes well over half of our time each day. It's worthwhile to consider the basics of effective communication and apply them to today's Internet and e-mail environment.

You probably agree that emergent issues, or "fires" that need to be put out, are usually the result of poor communication. Effective communication is a vital ingredient of organizational success. How you structure your communication, both in the messages you send and the feedback you receive, are the most important factors in your work performance. It is essential we don't forget how to communicate.

Do you remember the business principle called "management by walking around?" Popular in the early 80s, this approach "works well when a manager has made a commitment to spend a dedicated amount of time on the floor with the employees or in various employee offices each day." [source: Streetwise Managing People] Consider these four techniques and assess your ability to communicate:

· Be an equal opportunity communicator. In other words, spend time with each section, flight, or unit equally and visit as often as you can. Set aside time to show genuine interest so you aren't just filling a square on an imaginary checklist. This is most effective when you go by yourself.

· Ask questions, but reinforce the chain of command. Access to you as a leader in the organization may be an open invitation for someone to complain about their boss (your subordinate), but often just being a good listener is enough. Visiting work areas and watching people interact is often illustrative.

· Share your vision for the organization. This is a great opportunity to provide an unfiltered view of where you think the unit is going. This is also an good time to reinforce recent successes or positive initiatives.

· Have fun! Enthusiasm is contagious, and your folks will know in an instant if you are sincere and truly interested in them and what they have to offer.

The ease of access to information and the ability to communicate via e-mail, text messaging, blogging, etc. have hampered effective interpersonal communication. E-mail often cannot capture tone or intent. To overcome these barriers, take time to get out from behind your computer, visit your work centers or the offices of your peers, and talk to someone face-to-face. Chances are you'll be more effective getting your message across.