Managing others is all about effective communication. One of the ironies of modern management is that people are often promoted because they are good at a particular set of tasks in their department. It is not because they are good at managing other people.
Yet, as people climb up the management hierarchy, the most important determinant of whether they will actually be successful or not is increasingly how well they manage others, rather than their ability to execute particular tasks.
Effective communication is essential to managing others. At THP, we teach that this does not involve telling other people what to do, or what to think. It starts with active listening.
One of our principles of excellence is to listen without prejudice. For how can we communicate to others if we do not understand what they are thinking about first and what is important to them?
If we do not undertake this exercise, then we can talk all that we want. But will our intended audience actually be listening to us, or just going through the motions of appearing to? A manager will be far more likely to achieve his or her objectives if they understand what is important to the audience first.
This also circles back to one of THP’s core values. This relates to achieving customer satisfaction, but it could just as easily apply to effective internal communications. THP’s first core value is about taking the initiative to listen, to give detailed feedback and to meet demands so we can achieve mutual goals and expectations in a timely fashion.
This is why a participatory management style is so important. Once a manager understands how his or her team thinks by engaging them in discussions, then it is far easier to frame messages in ways that will hit the right marks and achieve their ends.
In 1974, Harvard Business School professors Chris Argyris and Don Schon famously created the “ladder of inference” as an aid to doing this more effectively. This organizational principle starts with the understanding that we all have a mental model of how we see the world: one that does not necessarily correspond with how others see it.
In order to communicate our viewpoint, we need to align others to our thought processes so that they see it too. The first rung on the ladder is making a point.
The second rung is backing up this point with a piece of concrete data. The third is to ensure that the data point we use is one that makes sense to the person we are communicating with.
Finally, it is also important to think about the communication channel we use. For example, at THP we could email our warehouse staff with a list of our core values. However, many of them do not spend much time sitting at a computer.
They are out and about all day long. So instead, we display our core values very prominently on the walls of all of our factories. And we know the message is effective because we see them in action day in and day out.