Information and Knowledge Sharing
Guard against the temptation to correct rumors or divulge information when you’ve been entrusted with confidential information. For example, assume you’re privy to secret information about a layoff or reorganization and someone asks you if it’s true. Instead of betraying confidences or correcting semi-accurate information, be honest about your predicament by saying something such as, “I can appreciate how hard it is to stay focused with this kind of uncertainty. I’m just not free to talk about this at this time.”
This augments your credibility by demonstrating that you can be trusted with confidential information. Moreover, you’ve allowed yourself some “wiggle room” to provide more information in the future. It also reveals that you’re managing on a formal basis rather than managing informally by responding to innuendo.
Be wary of seemingly contradictory and confusing written information. For example, there are often instances when it is difficult to decipher important information like the final cost of a product, the total time needed to complete a project or the expected rate of return on an investment.
Sometimes people produce and send information that is intended to confuse or possibly, to deceive. The result is that the audience often feels intimidated and inadequate, and is hesitant to ask further questions.
Use quotations from prominent people to set the tone for your communication. One speaker wanted to encourage his audience to embrace change in the organization. On the top of the handouts he distributed was the following quote from the famous basketball coach, John Wooden: “Failure is never fatal, but failure to change might be.” He educated his audience about Wooden’s successes both on the court and off. Then he expanded on the quote and presented a model of how to manage change in the organization.
A quote from a credible source enhances your credibility and can stimulate critical thinking. It can also demonstrate that you’ve “done your homework” and thought deeply about an issue. Often a single quote captures a rich thought in a pithy way. Your audience will likely remember the quote as a touchstone for your communication.
Use familiar visual images to communicate abstract ideas. For example, if you’re trying to communicate how much a one-cup serving size of popcorn or cereal is, compare it to the size of a baseball; a 4 oz. chicken breast is the size of a deck of cards.
This approach is powerful because the visual images are so familiar. This makes the concept easy for the audience to relate to and remember.
Consistently color code slides and handouts to signal a particular type of information or how a particular type of information should be treated. It may be something such as: green–information only; red–a decision is needed, etc.
This type of schema helps to flag messages. As a result, employees are able to quickly identify how to treat different information. If used consistently, the schema builds the credibility of the communication system and demonstrates a sensitivity to audience members. In essence, it helps avoid the “spray and pray” method of communication (spraying out information and praying employees will understand).
Consume a “balanced communication diet”. All information sources contain some bias and filter out cues. A steady diet of facts and figures may lack the richness of a few compelling stories. Likewise, a couple of rumors might relay emotional content, but fail to capture what’s going on with the typical employee in the organization.
By relying on multiple information sources, you’re more likely to understand the true dynamics of a situation and better interpret conflicting signals. Humans naturally severely limit their sources of information during stressful times. A more “balanced diet” of information sources helps to counteract this tendency.
Watch the “expiration date” on the information you receive. Most information has a limited lifespan. For many years, the consumption of orange juice remained relatively stable until the advent of low carbohydrate diets. A two-year old marketing study of orange juice buying trends would not account for this change.
By recognizing the “perishability date” of information, you are less likely to make faulty assumptions, inappropriate projections and poor decisions.
Structure the workplace to encourage informal information and knowledge-sharing. Companies have done this by setting aside time for employees from different departments to discuss their latest success stories and quandaries. Company social gatherings such as holiday parties can create new networks and relationships that can facilitate the smooth flow of information.
Studies have shown that up to 70% of workplace learning is informal. In fact, many companies have reported problems with using overly formalized tools like computerized databases as a means to share information and knowledge. Knowledge flows through organizations based on pre-existing networks of relationships. So, successful companies cultivate useful informal networks.
Communicate your intuitions by drawing more pictures and diagrams. They often help you articulate something hidden in your unconscious and may help fellow employees visualize the underlying quandaries you are grappling with. For example, pictures that employees drew of their relationship with another department revealed the underlying tension between the departments that they were previously unable to articulate and unwilling to openly discuss.
Approximately 50% of our brains are devoted to processing visual information. No wonder images help us communicate about relationships and associations we have difficulty verbalizing. Written communication often creates a false impression of linearity while a picture frequently reveals the underlying complexity of a situation.
When you are communicating about critical issues, use methods that encourage dialogue rather than monologue. For example, in communicating about a major change in employee benefits, encourage “give and take” through face-to-face venues such as informal small group meetings instead of formal presentations that discourage questions.
Although dialoguing takes more time and energy than just offering information, it provides the basis for deep understanding as both employees and managers have the chance to probe and discuss concerns. It also enhances the likelihood of buy-in.
Pay attention to rumors circulating in your organization. Researchers have determined that 80% of information sent via the grapevine is accurate.
Although not all rumors are true, they do provide an indication of what people are talking about and the issues and concerns you should be prepared to address. When viewing rumors, it is best to put the information gleaned from rumors in the “yet to be confirmed” category.