Communicating During Turbulent Times

During turbulent times, communication becomes even more important. To build trust and promote learning and problem solving, managers incorporate ideas such as open commu- nication,  dialogue, and feedback and learning. In addition,  they develop crisis communica- tion skills for communicating with both employees and the public in exceptionally chal- lenging or frightening circumstances.


A recent  trend that reflects  managers’ increased emphasis  on empowering  employees, building trust and commitment, and enhancing collaboration  is open communication.

Open communication means sharing all types of information throughout the company, across functional and hierarchical levels. Many  companies, such as Springfield Remanufac- turing Corporation,  AmeriSteel, and Whole Foods Markets, are opening the financial books to workers at all levels and training employees to understand how and why the company operates  as it does. At Wabash National  Corporation,  one of the nation’s leading truck- trailer manufacturers,  employees complete  several hours  of business training and attend regular meetings on the shop floor to review the company’s financial performance.69

Open communication runs counter to the traditional flow of selective information downward from supervisors to subordinates. By breaking down conventional hierarchical barriers to communication, the organization  can gain the benefit of all employees’ ideas. The same ideas batted back and forth among a few managers do not lead to effective learn- ing or to a network  of relationships that keep companies thriving.  New voices and conver- sations  involving a  broad spectrum  of people revitalize and enhance organizational communication.70  Open communication also builds trust and a commitment  to common goals, which is essential in organizations that depend on collaboration and knowledge- sharing to accomplish their purpose. Fifty percent of executives surveyed report that open communication  is a key to building trust in the organization.71


Another popular means of fostering trust and collaboration is through dialogue. The “roots of dialogue”  are dia and logos, which can be thought of as stream of meaning. Dialogue  is a group communication process in which together people create a stream of shared meaning that enables them to understand each other  and share a view of the world.72 People may start out at polar opposites, but by talking openly, they discover common ground,  common  issues, and shared goals on which they can build a better future.

A useful way to describe dialogue is to contrast it with dis- cussion (see Exhibit 13.8). The intent of discussion, generally, is to deliver one’s point of view and persuade others to adopt it. A  discussion  is often resolved  by logic or “beating down” opponents. Dialogue, by contrast,  asks that participants sus- pend their attachments  to a particular   viewpoint so  that a deeper level of listening,  synthesis, and meaning can evolve from the group. A dialogue’s focus is to reveal feelings  and build  common ground. Both  forms of  communication— dialogue and discussion—can result in change. However, the result of discussion is limited to the topic being deliberated, whereas the result of dialogue is characterized by group unity, shared  meaning,  and transformed mind-sets.  As new and deeper solutions  are developed, a trusting  relationship  is built


Over the past few years, the sheer number  and scope of crises have made communication  a more demanding job for manag- ers. Organizations face small  crises every day, such as charges of racial discrimination,  a factory fire, or a flu epidemic. Moreover, acts of intentional  evil, such as bombings  or kidnappings, con- tinue to increase, causing serious repercussions for people and organizations.74    Managers can develop four primary skills for communicating in a crisis.75

  • Maintain your focus. Good crisis communicators  don’t allow themselves to be over-whelmed by the situation.  Calmness and listening become more important than ever. Managers also learn to tailor their communications to reflect hope and optimism at the same time they acknowledge the current difficulties.
  • Be visible. Many managers underestimate just how important their presence is during  a crisis.76 As we discussed in Chapter 1, people need to feel that someone is in control. A manager’s job is to step out immediately, both to reassure employees and respond to public concerns. Face-to-face communication with employees is crucial for letting peo- ple know that managers care about them and what they’re going through.
  • Get the awful truth out.77 Effective  managers gather as much information as they can, do their best to determine the facts, and tell the truth to employees and the public  as soon as possible.  Getting the truth out quickly prevents rumors and misunderstandings.
  • Communicate a vision for the future. People need to feel that they have something to work for and look forward to. Moments of crisis present opportunities for managers to com- municate a vision of a better future and unite people toward common goals.


Feedback occurs when managers use evaluation and communication  to help individuals and the organization learn and improve. It enables managers to determine whether they have been successful in communicating with others. Recall from Exhibit 13.2 that feedback is an important part of the communication  process. However,  despite its importance, feedback is often neglected. Giving and receiving feedback is typically difficult for both managers and employees. Yet, by avoiding feedback, people miss a valuable opportunity to help one another learn, develop, and improve.78

Successful managers focus their feedback to help develop the capacities of subordinates, and they encourage critical  feedback from employees. When  managers enlist the whole or- ganization in reviewing the outcomes of activities, they can quickly learn what works and what doesn’t and use that information to improve the organization. Consider how the U.S. Army’s feedback system promotes whole-system learning.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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