Creating Powerful Group Communication
Read Time: 4 minutes, 24 seconds
As you know by now, there’s a lot that goes into face-to-face communication with someone. Now throw a bunch of people into the mix, put them in one room, and get them all to have productive communication. That can be a feat for even the most talented of communicators. And yet this is commonly expected from in-coming managers, entry-level leaders, volunteer facilitators, and even parents with their own children. Just because someone has a title doesn’t mean they have the necessary set of skills to create powerful, group communication right away or with years at their job. It’s only when someone can see the nuances, clear barriers, assist in the details, and shut down the bullish attitudes that group communication can flourish.
Communication comes with many nuances. For example:
- Coworkers at lunch take all the comfortable bench seats leaving the one person arriving late forced to sit in the only uncomfortable chair, making them feel awkward.
- One person dominates the discussion and overrides other speakers, and no one feels empowered to take over control.
- A team forms a circle of chairs, leaving several members forced to sit slightly behind them insinuating a difference in power.
These subtle distinctions in the environment, authoritarian structure, seating means something in group communication. It’s essential the leader can detect the silent imbalance in the room, correct it, to create the communication they desire.
Barriers to Group Communication
Nuances to communication are the small hints of which a leader needs to be aware. Then there are barriers. Barriers are the more obvious, although not always blatant that it’s noticeable to the entire group, that can bring dysfunction, total breakdown, and an immense amount of stress to everyone.
Language barriers can arise even between people who ostensibly speak the same language. Let me provide a personal example. Years ago I was almost fired from a job because I used the word “cognizant” in a sentence to an admin person. I thought I was simply asking her to please be “cognizant” of how far I have to drive to the airport when booking my flights. The conversation ended and I didn’t think of it again. The following morning my bosses wanted to see me and told me that if I speak like that again I would be terminated and they wrote up an HR report.
It took a lot of self-reflection and a few books later that I realized what my mistake was. I forgot words, positioning (I was standing, she was sitting), tone, and directness triggers an individual’s past experiences and sensitivities. I simply talked at her instead of wanting to be heard.
Draw out my example further and imagine how that small encounter impacted my performance, trust levels, loyalty. How much do you think I held back and second-guessed? How did that rub off on my entire team? The simplest of missteps in our use of a single word can cause tremendous and irrevocable damage to teams, organizations, and productivity.
Another common barrier that shuts down group communication quickly is talking in associated verbiage. This refers to groups relying on acronyms, jargon, or inside information to communicate ideas, brainstorm, and bond. They use it to express humor and comradery. The barrier rears up when new members join the group or outsiders pass by. They become quickly become lost and fractured easily.
Additional barriers preventing groups from creating powerful communication are:
- An innate lack of trust
- The presence of distractions
- Cultural or religious differences
- Emotional intelligence gaps
- Pressure to come to a consensus or to conform,
- Active bullying
These and others can lead group members to hide their true opinions and create unresolved tension.
TIP: Each individual in the group has the power to change poor communications to great.
Altering Dynamics of Group Communication
There are concrete actions any tribe member can take to alter the dynamics of group communication.
A microphone, translator, or a seating rearrangement may promote communication. Assess lighting, distance, spacing, the illusion of VIP status, proximity to stages or leaders. Be critical of the environment and how it may be perceived.
Steer away from topics that inflame emotions; promote inclusion and respectful listening; make sure there are enough resources and space for the people expected; provide equal time speaking. If you encourage rules, people will break them so you also will want to have the skillset to resolve tension or conflict if it does arise. At a minimum have a plan on what will occur if people bend, break, or ignore the rules.
Watch body language:
If other people are tuning out, shifting, or avoiding eye contact when you speak, then stop speaking and encourage someone else to speak. If you or others are trapped by someone else’s monologue, suggest that it might be nice to hear someone else’s opinion. If you’re facilitating, constantly observe and notice.
People are more engaged when they have a chance to contribute. Preparation, when possible, is indispensable so you can plan when you will ask something of each person, or bring up a topic that everyone can safely discuss, or connect around an area of interest for each person. Some other strategies are: break up into smaller groups, turn mics off when time is up, or play people off- yes, like at awards shows.
When you know better you, you’ll do better so understanding your own mindset and your reaction to a social situation is the most powerful catalyst to enhancing group communication there is.
Group communication thrives under rules of respect and inclusion, in a comfortable physical space, and with the right communication technology. If the situation devolves, you have the power to turn it around by responding in the moment, coming up with suggestions, and asking for help—regardless of your position in the group.