Sunday, June 10, 2012

5 Strategies to Overcome "Message in a Bottle" Syndrome

Leaders communicate all the time. Some messages are received, while others seem to never reach their intended target. Poor leaders lament, "I told them what to do, but they're just not listening".  They complain, "I told them how to do it, but they won't even try".

Maybe the issue isn't your followers. Could it just be that your message wasn't delivered?

Poor communicators send out a message as if they're putting it in a bottle, throwing it out to sea, expecting someone to pick it up, and miraculously understand the message. What people don't understand is that followers are bombarded by communication all the time.  They receive messages from parents, upper administration, administration, office staff, and peers. Every message is asking for something:  knowledge, clarification, and advice.  Even if the message is in person, there's lots to be misunderstood. 

The Sea of Translation 

Every message has the opportunity to get lost in the Sea of Translation; therefore, all leaders must help followers navigate these confusing waters with these 5 strategies:

Common Language

Many words have multiple meetings.  Compound that with multiple interpretations that people have of each word and you get instant confusion.  Leaders must take time to develop a common language for all.

Regular Routines

Messages need to be sent on a regular basis.  Failure to send your message on a regular basis will increase stress and frustration about what needs to be done.  Knowing when to expect communication from the leader will help all members feel more confident about the direction of the organization.

Frequent Reminders

Just because the message was sent doesn't mean it was received.  To ensure receipt of the message, leaders must send the message multiple times and through multiple formats.  The more times you remind the staff, the higher the percentage of receipt and completing the task.

Constant Clarification

With frequent reminders comes the need for clarification and alignment of common language.  Many times messages are received but not followed the way the leader intended.  Leaders must invite and encourage followers to ask clarifying questions.  Failure to clarify will ultimately send followers in the wrong direction and require the task to be done again.

Support to get the Job Done

Sometimes, leaders send out tasks that require skills, resources or time that are not available.  The leader must always send messages with the understanding that if followers lack resources or support to get the job done, they must feel comfortable asking the leader for support.  

If leaders are able to do this, they won't need to put their message in a bottle and throw it out to sea. They will have no need for frustration because they will be no longer on an island throwing out messages and hoping that someone will retrieve them. They will have transcended into true leadership by getting off of their Island and joining their followers on the island in which they reside. 

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