Managing Communication By Understanding Communication

Dec 2, 2009

So you might ask, what is communication? Simply put it is the process of transmitting information from one person or place to another. While some bosses sugarcoat bad news, smart managers understand that in the end effective, straightforward communication between managers and employees is essential for success. It is also important to know the role that perception plays in communication and communication problems. If you are an aftermarket business owner or manager it is critical to not just perceive a communication outcome, but to understand the perception and problem.

One study found that when employees were asked whether their supervisor gave recognition for good work, only 13 percent said their supervisor gave a pat on the back, and a mere 14 percent said their supervisor gave sincere and thorough praise. But when the supervisors of these employees were asked if they gave recognition for good work, 82 percent said they gave pats on the back, while 80 percent said that they gave sincere and thorough praise. You might ask how could managers and employees have had such different perceptions of something as simple as praise? One can thus better understand by learning the perception process, perception of various problems, how we perceive others and how we perceive ourselves.


Perception is the process by which individuals attend to, organize, interpret, and retain information from their work and or social environments. And such communication is the process of transmitting information from one person or place to another, and as such perception is obviously a key part of communication. Yet, perception can also be a key obstacle to communication.

As people perform their jobs from greeting customers at the counter to running the CNC team or to work aside with the manufacturer’s rep, each person is exposed to a wide variety of informational stimuli, such as non-verbal emails, direct conversations with the boss or coworkers, rumors heard over coffee, stories about the company at an event or car show or just gossip in the field.

Just being exposed to an informational stimulus, is no guarantee that an individual will pay attention or attend to that stimulus. People experience stimuli through their own perceptual filters such as personality, psychology, or experience-based differences that influence them to ignore or pay attention to a particular stimulus. Because of filtering, people exposed to the same information will often disagree about what they saw or heard. As such, perceptional filters affect each part of the perception process: attention, organization, interpretation, and retention.

Thus a short but articulate definition can lead you to better understanding the perception process. Attention is the process of noticing or becoming aware of particular stimuli. Because of perceptual filters, we attend to some stimuli and not others. Organization is the process of incorporating new information from stimuli that you notice into your existing knowledge. Because of perceptual filters, we are more likely to incorporate new knowledge that is consistent with that we already know or believe.

Interpretation is the process of attaching meaning to new information. This is when top management supports our project or addresses our mission vs. being put-off with the notion. Finally, retention is the process of remembering interpreted information. In other words, retention is what we recall and commit to memory after we have perceived something. Remember, perceptual filters also affect retention, that is, what we’re likely to remember in the end. Think of a TV commercial, display ad and or single comment and recall the in-depth detail and thus you’ll then understand not only perception, but recall how retention operates.

In short, because of perception and perceptual filters, people are likely to pay attention to different things, organize and interpret what they pay attention to differently, and finally, remember things differently. Consequently, even when people are exposed to the same communications such as organizational memos, discussions with managers or customers, they can end up with very different perceptions and understanding. This is why communication can be so difficult and frustrating for managers as well as people in the shop or serving customers at the counter.

Natural perception is actually the creationof ongoing problems

What may be seen as natural in perception is actually the creation of ongoing problems. Just as the shop owner and or manager communicates to the sales staff what is thought to be understood but misperceived, or the machinist not understanding the message clearly on a spec order, the result is the lack of perceiving the message which then results in ongoing miscommunication. Effective result: lack of company growth, lack of bottom line improvement and potential for company disruption as well as finger-pointing in a close environment. This presents a common brew for failure from all perspectives.

Perception can create communication problems especially for small to medium size shops and aftermarket retail operations. This is because people are exposed to the same communication and information can end up with completely different ideas and understandings. Two of the most common perception problems are selective perception and closure.

At work, we are constantly bombarded with sensory stimuli such as phones ringing, people talking in the back-ground, computers dinging as new email arrives, people calling our names, and so forth. As limited processors of information, we cannot possibly notice, receive, and interpret all this information. As a result, we attend to and accept some stimuli but screen out and reject others. This isn’t a random process, however, selective perception is the tendency to notice and accept object and information constant with our values, belief, and expectations, while ignoring or screening out inconsistent information.

For example, when Jack Smith, the former CEO of General Motors, was a junior-level executive he traveled to Japan to learn why Toyota was so productive. When he learned that Toyota could build a car with half as many people as Gm, he wrote a report and shared his findings with GM’s all-powerful executive committee. But no one on the committee believed what he told them. The executives just couldn’t accept that a Japanese company was so much more effective than GM, Says Smith, “Never in my life have I been so quickly and unceremoniously blown out of the water.”

Once we have initial information about a person, event, or process, closure is the tendency to fill in the gaps where information is missing, that is, to assume that what we don’t know is consistent with what we already know. If employees are told that budgets must be cut by 10 percent, they may automatically assume that 10 percent of employees will lose their jobs, even if that isn’t the case. Not surprisingly, when closure occurs, people sometimes “fill in the gaps” with inaccurate information, and this can create problems for companies of all sizes.

Attribution Theory and Basic Needs Understanding

The perception of others is an indicator that we all have a basic need to understand and explain the causes of other people’s behavior. In other words, we need to know why people do what they do. According to attribution theory, we use two general reasons or attributions to explain people’s

behavior: an internal attribution, in which behavior is thought to be voluntary or under the control of the individual, and the external attribution, in which behavior is thought to be involuntary and outside of control of the individual.

Consequently, in most workplaces, when things go wrong, workers and managers can be expected to take opposite views. Therefore, together, the defensive bias, which is typically used by workers, and the fundamental attribution error, which is typically made by managers, presents a significant challenge to effective communication and understanding in the workplace.

Self-perception or the self-serving bias is the tendency to overestimate our value by attributing successes to ourselves which are termed internal causes, and attributing failures to others or the environment which are termed external causes. The self-serving bias can then make it especially difficult for managers to talk to employees about performance problems.

In general, people have a need to maintain a positive self-image. This need is so strong that when people seek feedback at work, they typically want verification of their worth rather than information about their performance deficiencies or assurance that mistakes or problems weren’t their fault. And when managerial communications threatens people’s positive self-image, they can become defensive and emotional. They quite listening and communication becomes ineffective.

Most aftermarket businesses concentrate on the dynamic of customer service which leads to profit. Profit is king as some say, but the actual path to profit is through communication skill set building. Connecting the dots within your business, communicating for understanding and leading through communication not only impacts your business but filters to profits yet to be realized.

I sure you recognize that businesses place a great deal of effort in the wording of their advertising. The common factor is space. What to communicate in a small space is a primary question. You’ve expended a portion of your budget to communicate your message and are looking for a return on investment. A likeness to this is the small time of space you have to communicate you message to your workers as well as the face-to-face time you have with your customers verbally and or via the written word.

Many of us don’t actually see this as a thoughtful exercise but should be mindful as to the consequences of our own misgivings and lack of communication skills. Thus the recommendation is to filter your message to express your communication. Communication is a remarkable attribute to business, your personal and social life and the ability to be understood correctly and not misunderstood because of ineffective planning. Take the time to master communication delivery and see and listen for the positive result.