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Team Communications: Workplace Meetings

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Team Communication: Workplace Meetings and Interactions
Workplace meetings have become as common an occurrence in daily business activity as punching in on a time clock. "Done right, meetings are one of the most powerful communication tools." (Thibodeau, 2005, para. 1). As beneficial as productive meetings can be to business organizations, ineffective meetings can have an equally detrimental effect. Regardless of how boring or pointless they may seem, not even modern technology is a substitute for personal interfacing. Maxwell (2004) states the importance of in-person communication:
Meetings can be the best way to communicate information when what you say depends on what another person says. It's almost always harder and more time-consuming to convince someone of something by e-mail than face to face, when you can react immediately to objections and omit unnecessary arguments. (3)
Managers often see meetings as an integral part of the work process. "They can be management's most efficient and effective communication and planning vehicle…" (Professional Practice Curriculum, 2006). In this paper, many of the impediments to good communication are discussed. If recognized, it is possible to avoid them. In the end, productive business communication has to motivate the team to a common goal. This paper discusses various components for consideration when motivating the team. Meetings can be powerful tools for success when facilitators and participants are able to communicate efficiently and effectively.
Communication Impediments
The ability to talk or write does not mean that communication is taking place. Although these basic principles are taught to school-aged children, the principles are often stunted at this elementary level, and not developed as life-long skills. Adult communication skills are shaped by experiences, perceptions, and emotions, just as many other adult habits are shaped. These irrational standards can be the foundation for miscommunication when used in the workplace. Just as they have negative effects in families and other interpersonal relationships, they also have a negative effect on team building and cohesiveness within the workplace.
Taking it to Heart
In business meetings, especially those with impending deadlines, tempers can get out of control. Outbursts are not uncommon; however, the one receiving the brunt of anger is rarely the most deserving source. Hunter (2003) makes the following example:
For example, an employee has had a fight with a spouse, associate or customer, and because the issue that precipitated the argument remained unresolved, the anger and upset has been suppressed. Once in the office, the tension mounts. Later in the day the employee notices an insignificant error in a report you prepared, and all Hell breaks loose. Under such circumstances does it make sense to take this outburst personally? Logically, the answer is no. Taking someone else's anger personally is insane because it simply never is a personal phenomenon. This is not to say, however, that it is easy to remain calm in the face of another persons' anger, recognizing that it is not personal. It is never easy, but armed with this insight you can begin to develop an ability to stand firmly in the face of another's upset without taking it as a personal attack. (16)
Stand Your Ground
A certain amount of agitation is expected in a team environment. Agitation is an uncomfortable part of the process, but just like sandpaper rubbing against unfinished wood, it is the part of the process that refines and eventually brings to surface the best work. Teams do not profit when all of the members succumb to one point of view without challenging that view and refining it. According to the University of Phoenix text (2004), in bringing together a diverse group of experts, we expect and want these differences to surface because, in the end, we expect a better outcome to result.
Praise and Forgiveness
The "golden rule" aptly applies to most all interpersonal interactions and relationships, but can be pivotal in helping to progress a stalemated team. Each individual experiences wins and losses. Praise and forgiveness benefit the receiver and the giver and increase team morale and goodwill as a whole. Regarding praise, Hunter (2003) notes:
Not only is it important to acknowledge people for their actions and behaviors, but it is also important for you to thank individuals for the intangible contributions that they make, for their sincerity, for their commitment and their enthusiasm. Thank people for who they are and what they bring to the party. Acknowledge them for caring, for their smile, for their devotion and loyalty. (30)
Motivation Through Communication
In the workplace, the goal of communication is "to move all the stakeholders in the performance chain from a state of awareness to a state of performance, where they become active campaigners for the change as opposed to passive campaigners…" (Parameswaran, 2005). If workplace communication does not motivate workers toward a common goal of performance, then, no matter how pleasant, it is ineffective.
To determine what makes communication effective, Parameswaran (2005) goes on to ask the following questions:
Who comprises each target audience, and what are this group's needs?
What is the behavioral change required after the target audience has received the communication? (16)
Audience
When situations call for long term communications, such as, parent-child, husband-wife, or employer-employee paradigms, the communications must adapt to the changes over time. There can be external changes surrounding the relationship. For example, in a husband-wife relationship, if the husband who has been the dominant provider for the family losses his job, then the relationship changes will affect communication between husband and wife. Internal changes also affect relationships. For instance, a child who is now growing into a teenager will have a different perspective on life. Even though the relationships are still between the same individuals, the changes undergone have now changed the audience. Effective communication will have to take into account the mutable nature of the relationships.
Some workplace communication is on a "need to know" basis. Promotions and company resizing can quickly change who needs to know what and when. An effective communicator has to transmit the right information to the key person and they must be able to determine the best mode of communication. A middle-manager communicating information regarding a loss in quarterly profits may need to prepare a formal report with various attachments for the department head, in addition to a face-to-face meeting. The same middle manager would have to find a different approach to motivate his staff toward increased productivity.
Ownership
People are moved to action when they are directly affected. The Oakland Police Department (1967) encouraged supervisors to satisfy the desire of the employee to belong as follows:

First, each supervisor should consult with his subordinates before instituting changes in process, personnel, or equipment, a practice known as consultative management. Supervisors should make it a habit to ask their employees what they think then, listen and get their ideas. (14)
Sharing in the decision-making process gives workers a sense of ownership. People are more motivated when they see their own ideas come into fruition and work out successfully. "Our egos are tied to our ideas and we need to see them work." (R. Muhammad, personal communication, August, 2004)
Conclusion
Although it may be difficult to see on a Friday afternoon, near five o'clock, most workers want the opportunity to do a good job. However, building a productive workforce takes time, effort, and most of all effective communication. The dreaded staff meeting can become a tool for building relationships within the company, which will translate into a task driven team. Open communication will benefit workers by giving them a voice within the workplace dynamic and thereby perpetuating a sense of ownership. When the workers are motivated to work, the company can begin to function as an enthusiastic team, which will be evidenced in the bottom line.

References
City of Oakland Police Department. (1967). Training Bulletin: Strengthening Motivation
Through Communication. California: Police Publications
Hunter, S. (2003, Fourth Quarter). Top Ten Workplace Communication Skills: How They Can
Make Work Work For You. Credit & Financial Management Review. Retrieved
December 10, 2006, from http://findarticles.com
Maxwell, M. (2004, May 1). Death by meetings. Managing Information Strategies. Retrieved
December 10, 2006, from http://www.misweb.com
Parameswaran, A. (2005, March). Communication Builds on Fact-Based Assessment.
Frontline Solutions. Retrieved December 10, 2006, from http://findarticles.com
Professional Practice Curriculum. (2006). Conducting effective meetings. Retrieved December
10, 2006, from http://www.professionalpractice.asme.org
Thibodeau, J. (2005, September – October). Put productive meetings on your agenda.
Communication World. Retrieved December 10, 2006, from http://findarticles.com
University of Phoenix. (2004). Learning Team Toolkit. Available on the University of Phoenix
student/faculty website: http://ecampus.phoenix.edu (December 7, 2006)

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