Are you familiar with the analogy of having a stone in your shoe?
When someone refers to a stone in their shoe, they are often denoting a persistent problem – either something that nags at them or issues that bother them, upset them, or even make them angry. These issues require that we stop, pull off our proverbial shoes, and shake out that stone.
In an organizational context, one of the biggest rocks that leaders often find in their shoes is miscommunication. When an organization experiences a communication breakdown, productivity slows down significantly as the people within the organization struggle to get on the same page. Effective communication in business is a great way to avoid having to stop or even slow down when you’re on a roll– in fact, effective communication is pivotal for the success of an organization.
You can expect to meet hurdles in your business, especially if you are breaking new ground. But if your team knows how to collaborate and communicate effectively, these hurdles won’t be a source of your pain. Instead, these hurdles will serve as a launching pad for growth within your organization!
Communication: It’s never what’s said
The majority of conflict happens in two core areas: over our values and because of our Nature (which can also be defined as our personality).
Think about the last conflict you had with someone – a colleague or a friend. Even if the conflict seemed as if it were over something trivial or menial at first, it was probably actually a clash of core values or something about either personality which collided. When it comes to values, when your fundamental beliefs about right and wrong clash with another person’s, it becomes more likely that any little thing that person says or does will bother you– and the same goes for them about you! These personal values are often informed by our Nature– who we are determines, guides, and shapes what we value. This occurs most often as people do not work on defining their values apart from what they think or feel. It is critical that we define our values beyond our initial thoughts and feelings, especially when a crisis happens. When we do not take time to define our values beforehand, we may not like the values that leaked out after a crisis.
In a corporate setting, values operate exactly the same as they do on an individual basis– a company’s core values drive its members’s motivation to make decisions based on what the company values as right and wrong. When it comes to your corporate culture, conflict can arise if your team doesn’t fully embrace your corporate values. These are not just some values posted on a website for your prospective clients, but the real values that your people operate by.
Communication breakdown begins when our values aren’t at the center of it. Communication: It’s never what’s said. It is what is heard!
How do you get your employees to embody your company’s values on a daily basis? How do you ensure that every interaction your employees have with your customers reinforces your company’s values? They can’t unless communicated clearly and concisely. Does your team know why they show up every day?
If a customer is unhappy with your product or service, how does your team respond? Are your employees able to tap into your company’s core values and respond accordingly? Or, will they shoot from the hip and cost you a client…and potential referrals?
And as an aside, your corporate mantra probably shouldn’t have phrases like “We’re in it for the money.”
Office fires…your worst enemy
Think of your business like a forest. There are three types of fires that can ravage a forest:
- Treetop fires
- Root fires
- Brush fires
Similarly, there are different types of “fires” which can ignite in your business. Your “treetop fires” result from a disconnect between leadership and the rest of the team. Your “root fires” are issues with how certain people or systems interact with one another in an organization that go unaddressed. “Brush fires”, then, are the daily grievances and issues which arise more frequently in the workplace.
So many workplaces create their own issues! Some organizations believe that the key to creating a healthy and functioning workplace is to simply put out all the brush fires. Organizational leaders often believe that containing the small, everyday grievances of the workplace will keep their company afloat. However, this is not the case!
As brush fires burn, they then move into the roots and treetop. A root fire can smolder for days, even weeks, while a treetop fire can move from one tree to the next before you can get it under control. Similarly, the small brush fires of your organization represent bigger issues that will continue to cause issues if they go unaddressed.
How do these fires ignite in the workplace in the first place? With words. Effective communication is the cornerstone of a successful business– when you and your staff can convey organizational issues to one another as soon as they are realized, you can stop so many fires before they even start. In contrast, poorly chosen communication can start a chain reaction in your office, occupying your employees and putting your customer service at risk.
Do you spend your day putting out fires, going from crisis to crisis with a firehose?
If your business is in constant fire-fighting mode, your employees simply cannot focus on delivering your service with the utmost care and attention. Their responses to customer complaints might come across as knee-jerk reactions. This will undermine your existing client base, as well as make it more challenging to build your business.
Here’s an example…
I recently renegotiated my cell phone service contract. This new contract came with new phones, new features… and when the bill arrived, it matched what the customer service agent had sold me.
A few months later, I changed our internet and television service. To my surprise, the first bill arrived, and it was nearly $80.00 more than what we had agreed upon on the phone.
I called my provider and questioned the agent. At first, I got the stock answer – the knee-jerk response. According to the agent, someone had promised me a service they couldn’t deliver at the agreed-upon price, and it was my problem, not theirs.
The agent had very little interest in solving my dilemma at first. If I had to guess, I’m sure she was thinking only about her duties as an employee, and the rules she had to follow. Eventually, though, the agent figured out that, while she had to adhere to company policies regarding my plan, she could issue a rebate that compensated me for the difference.
Together, we worked through the problem and made a compromise that worked for both of us. I received financial compensation for a service I wasn’t using, and the company maintained my business…and the potential for referrals. In the competitive realm of telecommunications, that referral will go a long way!
Effective communication in business requires transparency
In this situation with the customer service agent, I, as a customer, was content to have the rules explained to me. The agent understood the limitations of their service and took the time to calmly and clearly tell me why she couldn’t accommodate my request using straightforward channels.
However, the customer service representative didn’t stop there. She obviously understood the company’s culture because she found a way to reimburse me and earned my loyalty without sacrificing her integrity as an employee. She didn’t impulsively make me promises that she couldn’t deliver on. She didn’t take my query personally. Instead, she took the time to explore all the options available to her and delivered on my request.
Do your employees have the same ability? Do they feel like they are empowered to stick to your company culture when dealing with a customer? Are they willing to apologize when they discover that your policies have failed? Have you explained your corporate values clearly enough that they’ll know where and when they can bend or adapt with your customers…or will they give them a stock answer and not care if your customer disengages?
Fight, flight, freeze, appease
Our biological response to fear is referred to as the “fight, flight, freeze, or appease” response. These are the four primal instincts we pursue when faced with a crisis. How would you like your team to respond if they’re under threat when dealing with a dissatisfied customer? Do you want them to pick a fight and argue with your client, put them on hold and hope they go away, or take no action at all? Instead, would you not rather your employees overcome these impulses and try to find a solution to the problems of your customers?
Whatever your team’s initial response to a crisis is, the important thing to know is that your team’s response to crises can be changed. How? Through the prioritization of your organization’s values. When your team is rooted in your company’s values, they will be able to make better decisions when faced with conflict, crisis, and especially with dissatisfied customers.
We can work together and establish your company’s core values– then, we will find a way to communicate them to your team. Contact me, and we’ll get a conversation started about aligning your values with your team’s abilities. Let’s run toward the roar together– embrace crisis as an opportunity for growth and learning.
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