Communication with Tact

Communication is always a delicate matter, especially in some Asian cultures where seniority is a crucial factor and the non-egalitarian atmosphere somehow stifles a healthy continuous two-way interaction between superiors and subordinates.

In an institution, communication is almost always done with a certain degree of imbalance. It is mostly initiated by the superiors and directed to the subordinates, and generally contains commands or instructions. The superiors are in a position to set the goals, set the pace of the work to achieve them, and demand obedience from the subordinates.

From the vantage point of a superior, the instructions are to be carried out properly by the subordinates. But once it is delivered, the subordinates may demonstrate some subtle signals in response to the instructions. To an insensitive leader, these signals may go unnoticed. But if one aspires to become an effective leader, he or she should attend to some covert signals that are actually pregnant with meanings.

What I describe below is based on my personal experiences as a leader. In one case, my direction and instruction through e-mails did not get any responses from my colleagues. This no-response situation has some possible reasons: they are reluctant to carry out the instructions, or they jump right way into it without any comments/questions. I had to be circumspect in making a conclusion, though. The safest way was to come directly to one of them and ask directly how he had been dealing with the task. His quick response convinced me that although he didnt respond directly to email, he engaged directly in the assignment. If I came to another one and was met with hesitation, I’d have to conclude that this person was not quite as enthusiastic as the first one.

Thus, lesson one here: email communication assures efficient communication as instructions with dense details can be passed onto others quickly, thus sparing us any small talks or other kind of talks that turned out to be unproductive. Yet, email is necessary but not a sufficient condition. In order to be fully aware of how the team responds to an assignment, it is vital that a face-to-face interaction be carried out.

The second case was from a meeting with the top executive. This top person indicated that there would be a rather drastic change in the way we did things. It entails a lot of meticulous work, something which we would not find pleasant. As he was delivering this signal, most of the staff members were busy with their gadgets or looking to another direction. These were obviously telltale signs of reluctance, doubt, or skepticism. I hoped that this top executive was sensitive enough to capture these non-verbal clues. With those kind of non-verbal responses, he had to go a long way to convince his people about the value of the change and eventually get them to do the work with great enthusiasm.

In the modern era where advanced technology brings people together but at the same time pushes them farther apart (recall one of your meeting sessions where most of the participants would rather drown themselves into their gadgets than talk to each other), communication poses certain challenges that we have to conquer. Being tactful in balancing online communication and face-to-face interaction is the key to making communication effective and pleasant.

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