A concise introduction

by Richard Pettinger

Chapter 7

You need to know that this is one of the crucial management skills. You will probably never be recognised as a good communicator – you will always be recognised if you are a bad communicator! You need to recognise the strengths and shortcomings of each of the means and ways of communication that are in the diagram on p118; and recognise from this that there are very few fully effective ways of communicating – the key indeed is that the best way is for you to tell people things first hand, and then reinforce anything and everything with written documents if you need.

You need to know that the non verbal aspects are much more powerful than verbal – people will remember you rather than what you said; and people will remember pictures or being shown things, rather than words and being told things. If your body language is giving off a message different to the words you are using, then people remember the body language.

People additionally recognise the messages that are really being given off, through a combination of language used, what is clearly stated and what is not, what is precise and what is not, the past history and track record of honest and dishonest communications, and what the agenda really is.

If you do not make clear what is going on and what is being communicated, then people will form their own judgements and make up their own minds. If you are being woolly, this is (as often as not) just being human; if you are being deliberately vague, this is a mark of dishonesty. All of this reinforces the need for clarity, transparency and honesty – and if you cannot be fully honest, then never tell lies! If you tell lies you will be remembered for this forever!

In general, people remember things best if you tell them verbally, and then follow up in writing. If the situation demands that you do use pictures, then do so – people remember images much more than they do words.

Additional Readings

There is a great deal of excellent material on communication available from a wide range of sources. The things to do is to choose what is best for you; and you do this by looking at as much as possible and then deciding what works.

In this context you nevertheless need to be aware of, and expert in:
  • oral and written communication;
  • non verbal communication;
  • the elements of toxic communication and how to manage and address them when they do occur;
  • organisational body language;
  • public relations and presentations.

Case studies and examples

Anglia Bank plc

Ruth Jones was manager of one of the largest branches of the Anglia Bank, one of the UK's leading high street retail banks. As usual, Ruth was required, along with all of the other branch managers, to attend the bank's week long annual conference at a five star hotel in an idyllic rural setting.

Before she left, Ruth briefed her deputy, Mark Smith, on how she wanted things to be run while she was away. She did not expect any problems; and in any case she could always be reached on her mobile phone. In particular, Ruth emphasised the need for discipline; and this was fair enough - Mark had only joined the bank ten days ago.

Stephen Hughes also worked at the branch. He was twenty four years old and was on the company's graduate management training scheme. Stephen was highly intelligent and very ambitious, although inclined to be impetuous; and he was especially nervous at this time, because he was awaiting the results of his banking exams, which were due any day.

While he was walking around the branch, Mark found Stephen smoking in one of the client interview rooms. Smoking was strictly forbidden anywhere on the premises, and Mark strongly rebuked him. The rebuke carried across the whole branch, and was heard by every other member of staff, and by the customers who happened to be in at the time.

Stephen argued violently, and then stormed out of the branch. He was absent for two days; and then returned to say that he had found a position with another bank, in view of the fact that he had passed his exams.

Mark telephoned Ruth three times, leaving messages on her voicemail to return his calls. He did not however leave any details of the matters in hand.

When Ruth got back, Mark advised her what had happened. Ruth stated that promotions had been discussed during the conference; and that as head office had learned of Stephen's success, his promotion to the next grade had been approved. Ruth had herself personally recommended this promotion also.

On the basis of what you are told here, you can then establish what was in the briefing that Ruth gave out, and what should have been in the briefing. You can also establish some of the key areas where there was a breakdown in communication:
  • how Stephen needs to behave;
  • what Stephen was to do if he did pass his exams;
  • how to get hold of Ruth while she was away;
  • how to behave (and how not to behave) in a professional setting;
  • the company smoking policy.
You can then look at the likely and possible effects on the organisation performance of these breakdowns in communication.

Communication Errors

You should look at the examples below and establish why they happened. You should then discuss the wider lessons to be learned.

In 1944, during the final months of World War Two, King Haakon of Norway delivered a rousing wartime address to his beleaguered people on the BBC World Service. King Haakon was running a bit late, and so the producer rang through to the sound archives to ask for a fanfare to round off the broadcast.

At this point, 'the talk came brilliantly alive. King Haakon had just commended his country to God, made a few Nordic farewell grunts, and laid down his script, when the air was suddenly alive with the sound of roundabouts and ribaldry and Cockneys shouting: 'Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen' '.

Sound archives had misheard the request and had sent the sounds of a funfair, not fanfare.

After a heated argument at work, a woman reporter working for the 'Mirror' newspaper was told by her colleagues that she could not organise a party in a brewery. Stung by this comment, the woman reporter announced that next week was her birthday, and that she would be arranging a party at the Fullers Brewery in Chiswick.

However she put the wrong date on the notice board and invites, and the party goers turned up twenty four hours early.

Virago, the independent feminist publishing company, launched a new series of books especially for teenagers. One of the first of these books was 'Down The Road, Worlds Away' by Ranila Khan, whom the publishers described as 'an unknown Islamic authoress'. 'Down The Road, Worlds Away' was a sensitive collection of short stories showing the problems that Asian girls face growing up in an oppressive and male dominated society.

The book was withdrawn when Virago discovered that it had in fact been written by an unknown Church of England clergyman called Toby Forward. Rev Forward explained afterwards that he had done things this way 'because people often do not take Anglican vicars all that seriously'.

Taxi Rides
The Frankfurt Book Fair is an annual gathering of publishers, noted as much for partying as for services to literature. One Dutch publisher left his seventh party in three hours and hailed a cab. The worse for wear, he pulled a card from his wallet bearing the name of his hotel, handed it to the driver, and fell asleep. Next morning he woke up outside his home in Amsterdam, having shown the wrong card.

Source: S Pile (2002) The Return of Heroic Failures Secker and Warburg

Discussion questions

Discuss the view that email is a means of information exchange rather than active communication.

When is it wrong to tell people things to their face?

What are the best ways of communicating: redundancy news; reorganisation news; the need to introduce and be trained in new technology?

Imagine going a week without seeing either a McDonalds or Coca Cola advertisement or poster. What would be the effects on you; and what would be the effects on the business of McDonalds and Coca Cola? What are the lessons for mainstream communications between individuals?

Web links to other examples, materials and sources

As above every manager needs to be an expert in communication. The need is therefore to search the internet and seek out those sources which are going to be of value in the given set of circumstances and to ensure that you develop those areas of communication that you are already good at, and build on those areas that need work. There are sources from all over the world on:
  • presentation skills;
  • dealing with difficult staff and situations;
  • public relations and media management;
  • organisational body language.
You can go to any publishers’ website and get a large range of work from them, especially: There are also specialist websites that deal with video and corporate communications, managerial communications and communications practice and training. One such example is which provides expert and tailored support for all of its clients.