There are a million different companies out there, but there’s one thing they all have in common: They rely on communication to drive business forward. From core values to culture practices, conflict resolution to recruiting, sharing the right message in the right way is crucial to running a successful company. Despite this, we all bungle communication at one point or another. In fact, I’ve seen it firsthand at many companies, including Zenefits, where I now serve as an HR Generalist on the internal HR team. As a team member of the fastest-growing SaaS startup in the U.S., I can say with authority that it’s just as crazy as you would imagine. But I’ve also learned a lot of lessons along the way. The most important one? The importance of communication in reducing conflict and facilitating growth in your organization. If that sounds like a lofty goal, it’s because it is. But it isn’t insurmountable if you get HR on board with your efforts, and start to rid your workplace of the most problematic myths regarding personal communication. If you do this consistently over time, you’ll enhance work relationships and clear the way for unobstructed growth for both your people and your company.
So, as a business leader or HR professional, what myths do you need to look out for? Read on for my top five myths.
Myth 1: “Business isn’t personal.” If your organization is staffed by human beings, then your business is inherently personal. Smart leaders understand this and know how to navigate the rough waters of human interaction effectively. HR can also play a role in socializing this concept within an organization so that managers know how to deal with issues when they arise. Here are some of my most important takeaways:
Myth 2: “What you say is what people hear.” You never know exactly how your message will land with someone else. That’s why it’s your responsibility to examine every possible misconception that may arise in a situation before communicating a message. Distill your feedback or other HR information in the simplest of terms and find multiple ways of saying it so that the other person understands. It’s also worth pointing out that saying it once is usually never enough. Whether you’re providing feedback to senior management or supporting staff–or the other way around–be certain to reiterate your message so that you’ve been heard.
Myth 3: “Money is the most important thing.” Fat salaries don’t solve all your problems. Ask any HR professional, and they’ve probably had a manager come to them at some point saying, “My employee seems so unhappy–but he makes so much money. I don’t understand what the problem is.” While it may not seem obvious to some managers, not all employees care exclusively about bringing home a big paycheck. While salary is still a top-concern for job seekers, particularly millennials, other factors contribute to unhappiness on the job, like team dynamics, company culture, or conflict. If you’re a manager and you sense a problem, resist the urge to shy away from your employee, since this is usually the time you can make the biggest difference with a direct report. Connect with your employee immediately and find out what’s going on, or work towards uncovering the issue over several meetings.
Myth 4: “The ‘truth’ is out there–and I know it!” Remember that old saying, “There are two sides to every story”? Well, it also applies to business settings, where I’d argue there are as many “truths” as there are personalities in an organization. Naturally, conflicts will arise, but when they do, it’s important for leaders in the organization to be mindful of the fact that there’s always an element to the story you can’t see, access, or uncover. That’s where HR can play a big role in providing guidance for resolving problems by first ascertaining a timeline of the events that took place. While you can’t access a single, definitive “truth”, you can go a long way towards brainstorming resolutions that work for all parties involved in a situation.
Myth 5: “Listening is easy.” So. Not. True. Don’t believe me? Try to recall a time when you went to a meeting without a laptop in front of you or a phone in your hand. Even if you think you were listening, the urge to formulate a brilliant rebuttal or addition to the conversation is always at the forefront of your mind. The result? Frustrating meetings where fragmented ideas are on repeat until time runs out and frustrations boil over. Stepping into a meeting or 1:1 with the goal of listening more than you speak is likely to result in a greater understanding of the group, and increased organizational cohesion.
As an HR professional, I believe that organizational success and positive business outcomes require communication of critical information and feedback on a regular basis. Avoid passive listening by being incredibly present in the moment: paraphrase what people say to you and narrow it down to shared terms when describing events, situations, and goals. Understand that you may not ever know the truth in a given situation. Let go of the idea that money, above all else, keeps people at organizations—I used to recruit and I’ve seen many situations where money doesn’t make any difference. Lastly, remember that there’s no such thing as ‘over-communication’. By abandoning these myths in the workplace (and outside of it!), it’ll be much easier to achieve both HR and business goals.