Have you ever received a Whatsapp telling you you’re being retrenched? Or had a one-on-one meeting with your manager about how the coffee machines will be added to the agenda in the following annual discussion about office upgrades? The chances are fairly low. There is something inherently wrong with the match between the content and mode of communication.
Communication is vital to the functioning of the workplace. Without it teams can’t coordinate, projects don’t progress, and things fall into a general state of disarray which creates fuel for conflict. Communication must happen, but in order to communicate effectively you have to do so in the correct manner.
According to Media Richness Theory, you have to match the ambiguity of the message you’re trying to send with the richness of the method.
Rich methods of communication include the likes of face-to-face meetings and video conferences. These methods allow for high amounts of data to be sent and received between participants. The tone of voice, the body language, the actions, the phrasing, the context, and the very content of the message are all conveyed in these forms, making them informationally intensive and rich. Methods low in richness include the likes of handbooks, newsletters, and (to a degree) even emails. The majority of the data provided in the communication is in the actual content of the words.
What this means is that when you need to communicate something nonroutine, ambiguous, and unusual or very important, it is better to use a rich method. This ensures that people don’t waste time being confused or having to second guess their interpretations. The communication is rich, providing enough detail to make sure the ambiguity is cleared up. When you want to communicate something that is more routine, clear, and self-explaining, it is better to use non-rich methods. This avoids wasting time, and boring employees to death by over-explaining something simple.
The benefit of knowing the applicability of your choice of communication is that you can more easily avoid miscommunication. Companies that decide to Whatsapp retrenchment notices to employees should expect a backlash. Their employees are bound to have many questions, and feel incensed by the lack of sensitivity which the non-rich form cannot assuage. And companies that insist on face-to-face meetings for daily, routine information are likely to be met with yawns and disinterest – which undermines the point of the meeting in the first place! In other words, choose your form of communication wisely. It’s the art of selection; the art of communication.
Blog article by Amy van der Velden, compliments of Goldfish Consulting