Guidelines for communication in your workplace

This is an excerpt from one of our staff orientation manuals. It spells out the basic rules for communication in the workplace and could save you a great deal of conflict and misunderstanding.

We want your ideas and your intelligence applied to the benefit of the business, and we want instructions to be understood. To help us to do this, we are training all the managers and supervisors to use a process called paraphrasing. This takes two forms: (a) the sender of a message may ask for it to be repeated back in the listener’s own words, or; (b) the receiver of a message may choose or be asked to summarise and restate the message to make sure it has been understood.

Staff are expected to follow these guidelines as a condition of the job

If you are delivering an important message to a supervisor or manager above you, you have the right to request that they repeat it back to you, to ensure that they gave you the attention you deserve and that they got all the details correct. They have the same right when dealing with you.

Supervisors and managers will be trained to give important instructions in a certain format. This format is quite simple and is meant to ensure that people understand what they are being asked to do without misunderstanding or confusion. It consists of:

who is responsible ( “Mary, I would like you to be responsible for…”)

what exactly is required (…cleaning this area. By this I mean wiping down the benches and the walls, cleaning out the sinks, returning everything to it’s correct place, then sweeping and mopping the floor.”)

when it is to be done by (I’d like it done by 3 o’clock, please?)

You may then be asked to repeat it back if the person giving the instruction is not sure of your listening skills, or they feel that there is room for misunderstanding.

You will then be asked to maintain eye contact and give a commitment.

Please understand the difference between commitment and agreement at this point. Giving a commitment means you are entering a binding verbal contract, pledging that you will deliver what you say you will deliver. Agreement is a bunch of words thrown at another person in order to keep them happy but with no intention to deliver behind them (“Yeah, no worries, I’ll look into it”).

Think carefully if you are asked to give a commitment. You have the right to say something like: “I’m sorry, I can’t commit myself to that right now, because I’ve been given other priority work. If you want to guarantee that it gets done, you may have to ask someone else.” At first you may find this a little strange, but consider the short term consequences of irritating a superior against the long term consequences of failing to deliver things you have led them to believe you will do.

If you give a commitment, one of two things will be expected to happen: (a) either you deliver your commitment, on time and to the standard expected, or, (b) you renegotiate the deadline or terms of the commitment before the deadline. Please do not expect you superiors to react pleasantly to being told at, or after the deadline: “I’m sorry, I haven’t done it.” They will be trained to counsel you about being reliable if this happens.

You will be pleased to know that this process works both ways; you can ask for commitments from your superiors and you have the right to demand that they stick to them. Don’t be shy or feel you are being pushy — proper communication is a two way process.

If you break a commitment, rule or policy, you will be asked if you have a reason. You supervisors and managers will be trained to recognise and draw a distinction between reasons and excuses. If you try to manipulate your way out of trouble by throwing any old excuse back, you are likely to come unstuck. We expect you to recognise when you have been unreliable, negligent, etc, and face the consequences in a mature fashion.

If you have a problem with something a member of staff or a manager has done, we expect you to talk directly to the person concerned, and not whinge or complain to someone else who is not involved. Being blunt, we expect you to put up or shut up. If you grumble or whinge to a member of staff who does not have the power to resolve the situation, you are just being poisonous to morale and creating trouble.

If you complain to a supervisor or manager about another member of staff, they will be trained to ask: “Have you spoken directly to the person concerned?” If your answer is “No” they will direct you to do so. They will be trained to not involve themselves until you have tried to resolve it yourself and have failed to do so.

If you have a problem with a superior, which happens in all businesses from time to time, you will be expected to follow this procedure:

  1.  talk direct to the superior about your problem and try to resolve it yourself;
  2. if you are still not satisfied, please tell the superior concerned that you are still not happy and request that they accompany you to an appointment with your superior’s boss for arbitration of the matter.

Please do not go behind peoples’ backs when you have a problem. Deal with the person concerned and make an assertive request for what you want before you involve others. Remember, we are a team, not a hierarchy.

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