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12.3: Understanding Communication

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Define communication.
    2. Understand the communication process.

    Communication supports each of a manager’s P-O-L-C functions. The ability to effectively communicate is a necessary condition for successfully planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Communication is vital to organizations—it’s how we coordinate actions and achieve goals. It is defined in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior (Merriam-Webster, 2008).” We know that 50%–90% of a manager’s time is spent communicating (Schnake, et. al., 1990) and that communication ability is related to a manager’s performance (Penley, et. al., 1991). In most work environments, a miscommunication is an annoyance—it can interrupt workflow by causing delays and interpersonal strife. And in some work arenas, like operating rooms and airplane cockpits, communication can be a matter of life and death.

    So, just how prevalent is the problem of miscommunication in the workplace? You may be surprised to learn that the relationship between miscommunication and negative outcomes is strong. A recent NASA study suggests that deficient interpersonal communication was a causal factor in approximately 70%–80% of aviation accidents over a 20-year period (Baron, 2004).

    Poor communication can also lead to lawsuits. For example, you might think that malpractice suits are filed against doctors based on the outcome of their treatments alone. But a 1997 study of malpractice suits found that a primary influence on whether a doctor is sued is that doctor’s communication style. While the combination of a bad outcome and patient unhappiness can quickly lead to litigation, a warm, personal communication style leads to greater patient satisfaction. And satisfied patients are less likely to sue.1

    Figure 12.4


    Success on complicated missions at NASA depends on strong communication.

    Wikimedia Commons – Orion briefing model – public domain.