Functional Communication

by | Dec 27, 2023

When we conduct our Company Climate Inventory for organizations, “communication” shows up as one of the challenge areas for almost every client. Communication is a very broad, general term, covering a myriad of situations and issues.

First, we’re humans, which makes us special as well as fallible. We have a unique set of programming, generational family influences, history, skills, experiences, situational issues, and so on. This means that every individual is going to relate to something differently from anyone else.

These differences could be anywhere on the spectrum of microscopic variations to chasms wider than the Grand Canyon.

Here’s an example: A former friend once asked me if I was going to bail on a company trip. I immediately bristled at the word “bail.” How dare she accuse me of bailing on anything? Didn’t she know how responsible I was? Hadn’t I proven myself to be someone who could be counted on? How could she even ask me that?

Yeah, I obviously have issues around responsibility and carrying through with my responsibilities. 🙂

Someone else, though, may not have thought twice about the use of “bail.” They might have just answered the question, and the conversation would have moved forward.

Before we talk about functional communication, let’s start with what basic communication is. At its most simplistic form, Person A has an agenda that they want to share with someone else verbally, written, or elsewise (think physical gestures). Person B has to decide how to respond.

We all have an agenda, whether we want to admit it or not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it was very clear why Person A is saying something? That then helps Person B know how to respond.

There could be all sorts of reasons that call for communication. Engagement, getting to know people, camaraderie and community, forwarding the action, solving problems, feeling competent and relevant.

Wouldn’t it also be nice if we had if/then programming to help us know what to do?

  • Does A just need a sounding board? Then B shuts up.
  • Does A need to be seen, heard, acknowledged? B can mirror, use facial expressions, body language, eye contact to express that they acknowledge A.
  • Does A need validation? B responds with empathy.
  • Does A need input/solutions? Then B can help with problem-solving.

In an ideal world, both parties in a communication situation would be very clear about their purpose, agenda, and desired outcome.

  • Person A: I’m going to tell you this, and here’s what I need from you.
  • Person B: Agrees, disagrees, negotiates.

That clarity rarely happens as we humans have so much wrapped up inside us, as pointed out above.

Enter what I call the ladder of functional communication.

  1. Statement – Any reason to communicate starts with a statement of the situation, purpose, or problem.
  2. Dialogue – This is what is normally thought of as “communication”: the back and forth between parties.
  3. Transparency – For functional communication, transparency of purpose, agenda, feelings, etc. is required.
  4. Collaboration – Working together and sharing ideas, knowledge, and resources to achieve a common goal.
  5. Consensus – Ideally, both parties agree upon actions to take/methods in order to achieve the desired outcome.
  6. Action – This may result in actual actions to take, decisions to make, or other next steps.
  7. Completion – Successful, effective communication achieves the desired goal, which was outlined in step 1.

This is obviously a very linear view of communication, and it’s not a complete picture, taking into account those unique human variables, plus the right-brained side of us that is applying context and subjectivity real-time in a situation.

And then we factor in other elements like active listening, emotional intelligence, dysfunctional communication styles, personalities, and the like…. is it any wonder “communication” comes up as an issue between people and in organizations?

To find out more how we can help you, reach out. We have customized trainings, self-paced online trainings, and specific programs to help your organization communicate and work better together.

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