Albert Anani-Bossman’s thoughts ….Creating a communication climate at the workplace

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Whenever we think of the word ‘climate’ terms like cold, hot, hazy may come to mind. These are terms we use when describing whether conditions. These terms can also be used to describe the conditions that exist within an organisation.

We can describe an organisational climate the internal emotional tone of the organisation based on how comfortable organisational members feel with one another and the organisation.

The atmosphere within an organisation determines the nature of communication. It is a core part of organisational culture. For example, do workers feel safe, do they feel valued and appreciated, can they confidently express dissent without fear of being victimised? Are their ideas and comments taken seriously? Are they free to communicate at work?

The answer to these questions determines the atmosphere in an organisation.  Communicate climate is the emotional atmosphere, the pervading or enveloping tone that we create by the way we interact with others. In other words, positive environment foster – and negative environment hinder-interaction and information.

People in organisations tend to have different perceptions of its climate, which in turn affect their communication. People who work in the same organisation could describe the organisation differently based on the climate they find themselves in. while one may pay glowing tribute to the organisation, another may have a chill just thinking about it and may not encourage others to work there.

Charles Redding, a prominent researcher in this area illustrate this clearly in this statement: “The climate of the organisation is more crucial than are communication skills or techniques (taken by themselves) in creating an effective organisation.” Perceptions of an organisation is thus based on the climate that exists in the organisation. A tense climate may stifle communication while a positive climate may foster a culture of quality communication.

The climate within an organisation, therefore, shapes the organisation’s continual, routine communication behaviours even as the continual, routine communication behaviours also help to strengthen, maintain, and build its climate. When employees feel they can only speak when it is “proper” or must keep quiet around a “controlling and dictatorial manager”, or know their activities are being monitored they are likely to respond negatively to such a climate.

Communication climate is integrally linked to communication competence. Some climates promote proficiency while others promote deficiency, in goal attainment. Communication in organisations can, therefore, occur within either a constructive/supportive or a destructive/defensive climate.  A constructive communication climate is composed of two main aspects: a pattern of openness, or a willingness to communicate, and a pattern of supportiveness, or a confirmation of the worth and value of others and a willingness to help others succeed. Destructive communication climate, on the other hand, is composed of closedness, or an unwillingness to communicate with others, and defensiveness, or a protective reaction to a perceived attack on our self-esteem and self-concept. A constructive communication climate ensures a better exchange of information and a more positive work environment. Building constructive communication climate means sending messages that acknowledge effort, creativity, and teamwork, engage people in the decision-making process, establish trust and most importantly encouraging appropriate dissent.

Conversely, when an organisation has a defensive/destructive climate, employees keep their views to themselves, make only guarded statements and suffer from reduced morale. Employees essentially take on the role of the “yes man” where they agree to everything management says, even when they realise it will not work.

Sometimes managers, in their bid to exert control, take decisions or impose solutions without regard for employee concerns. In such a situation the climate of the workplace can quickly become destructive. However, when a manager address issues in a give-and-take manner, this fosters supportive or positive climate as solutions satisfy multiple parties. In some organisations, managers tend to view employees as dishonest and ready to cheat the organisation when they have the chance.

They see employees as lazy – and unless strictly monitored –  will spend their working hours making phone calls, writing personal emails, surfing the internet and playing computer games -especially with the advent of social media. Employees, on the other hand, see management as inherently domineering and greedy. The two parties constantly think up a strategy to manipulate events and gain the advantage. With such destructive climate employees try to withhold information from management and constantly think of ways around privacy restrictions. Organisations that encourage open communication and honest self-disclosure create an atmosphere where everyone can speak their mind – rather than always thinking of how to manipulate the system.

There are situations where managers or supervisors do not show much concern when employees ask for time to deal with legitimate personal/family issues. When this happens, workers assume an attitude of neutrality – impersonal approach to the workplace. Employees just “do their jobs” when management is perceived to be indifferent to personal issues affecting employees. It is therefore important for managers to show that they care for employees by showing empathy i.e. looking at the situation from their workers’ point of view.

Another situation that can cause a defensive climate is what is referred to as “my-way-or-the-highway”. Some bosses determine there is one best way of achieving an organisation’s objective and anyone who has a contrary view must leave. In other words, such a boss cannot work with those who do not agree with his principles or ideas. However, having an open mind and encouraging others to bring ideas they might have will promote a supportive climate. Everyone will feel safe to express their ideas/opinions without fear of retribution or humiliation.

Positive feelings in any organisation are driven by the character of management’s interactions with employees not by the content of what management says or the methods used to deliver such messages.  The crucial determinants of what employees communicate is the organisational climate produced by these interactions, not the communication abilities of the employee. If, for example, management makes employees feel that talking about issues is generally discouraged, then frustrations will build, the organisational climate will turn chilly, and success will be hindered. Conversely, if management values interaction and feedback, then a productive climate and improved bottom line can result.

For the appropriate atmosphere or climate to be realised there is a need for mutual respect and constructive evaluation. The needs and opinions of employees must be recognised and responded to. A supportive manager is thus like a good coach. When a player or the team is not doing well, the coach can yell and curse or publicly criticise the player in the media or choose to encourage and help the player/team analyse and overcome what is causing the slump.

Managers can encourage their employees and help them determine how to maximise success. A positive organisational climate can also occur when employees feel confident that management has a plan and is charting the best course of action to achieve success. When management is viewed as credible by employees, doubts and fear are dispelled.  Again when an interaction between supervisors and employees are characterised by the free flow of information, organisational climate is improved. Access to information is crucial for the success of any work and when people have that, it results in positive feelings.

Positive organisational climate is also influenced by participatory decision making. When employees are able to participate in decisions that affect their work and employment, it results in good feelings. Sure employees may not always get what they want, but the feeling of knowing that they can have a voice and provide input that is taken seriously is enough to engender a positive attitude towards the organisation. Organisations can also emphasize high-performance goals as a way of engendering a sense of purpose among employees. Most employees simply do their jobs without any real idea why it matters-other than getting their pay-check at the end of the month. By setting high-performance goals, organisations are more likely to achieve success and stimulate a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

 

Organisational communication scholars have proposed six factors that influence employee perceptions of an organisation and that impact communication. These are expressed as questions.

  • What methods are used by managers to motivate employees?
  • Do employees feel that management uses effective methods, rather than just chance, for solving problems?
  • Do employees believe management sees them as important?
  • Are employees given the resources to perform their jobs effectively?
  • Can employees initiate upward communication?
  • Is the quality of communication within the organization generally good?

Thus, organisational climate is likely to occur when employees are motivated by positive rather than negative means, when they believe management solves problems fairly and values its workers, when they feel able to do their jobs and able to communicate with managers, and when they feel well informed.

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