Communication without context creates inefficiencies

  • Published
  • By Col. Mike Col√≥n
  • 821st Air Base Group commander
Leave the place better than you found it. It is a saying many of us heard while growing up. Chances are you've heard it from your parents once or twice. This saying has always resonated with me. It is simple and easily understood. In short, it gets straight to the point and is a great example of how unambiguous communication can help a team successfully accomplish a task.

This statement works because the message is understood by you and me. It also works because our parents shaped our perspective and provided the meaning or context we apply to that message today.

At the most fundamental level, communication occurs in a context and the nature of communication depends on this context. Understanding this will assist any organization in dealing with communication. How can we ensure the context within a message is relevant and understood by all?

As leaders in today's do-more-with-less environment, we all realize the importance of time. The hours in a day, allocated to task accomplishment, are becoming more and more of a luxury as our plate becomes overloaded with tasks. With this increased workload, time management becomes increasingly important as we attempt to provide ample time for the team to accomplish the task. The way you communicate can have one of two effects with the team's time management. It can either provide or take time away from the team. In that sense, we can all agree that communication problems cause bottlenecks in organizations. How many times have you scratched your head and wondered; what are we supposed to do? These bottlenecks become inefficiencies which can impact mission accomplishment.

Nobel Prize winning author George Bernard Shaw once said "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Many times we as leaders think that our communication is clear and understood by the unit only to find out the opposite upon task completion. It takes your active engagement to develop the context for a message to be clearly understood by the team.

Clear communication creates efficiencies in an organization. In order to succeed in a time-constrained world, your message must be accompanied with context. A way of accomplishing this is to include the following in your message; who, what, when, where, and especially the why to the team. The five Ws creates the context required by an organization or team to accomplish any task and eliminates the time spent deciphering what is truly wanted by the boss. I purposely left out the "how" and you should too. Let your team figure out the how. You will be amazed by the team's ability to exceed your expectations. This approach serves two purposes: it helps focus the team and minimizes loss of time. With this approach, you are developing efficient teams. By allowing your team to develop the how, you will create the environment for great ideas to take place. Your role as a leader, in your respective mission area, is not to be the source of all the great ideas but instead to help create the conditions in which those great ideas can happen.

Contextual communication feeds an efficient environment. Your message, in context, reduces misunderstandings and focuses the organization. Articulating the five Ws in your message is critical to the team's understanding. Always remember that words matter and can mean different things to different people simply based on upbringing. At the end of the day, your mission to dominate the high ground is not complete until your message is received by all and acted upon.