The working world - and frankly, the non-working world - has always had the sense that “communication problems” or “miscommunications” underlie every problem you face in work and life. In fact, if you’ve been a part of the working world for a while, this statement might make you chuckle in its obviousness - communication is always the problem.
And yet - despite our shared understanding that miscommunication creates our workplace problems (failed outcomes and disgruntled employees, to name a few), organizational strategy is almost never focused on “solving” for miscommunication.
Why? If the root cause is so obvious, why haven’t we tried to solve it?
2020 just explained why - and not only is the answer more simple than you think, but the potential for actually, successfully tackling Communication-As-A-Root-Cause is bigger than ever before.
Language is a living technology that is constantly being co-created and co-maintained by its users (us!). The environment in which we create and maintain our linguistic technology is within conversations between people, which means that linguistic innovations (new words, phrases, usages, meanings, etc) AND miscommunications (between people of different backgrounds, generations, opinions, etc) have been historically hard to capture. Unless you’ve been recording and analyzing your organic conversations, you probably haven’t noticed much about the language you use at all.
One of the bi-products of the remote workforce boom in 2020 is that organic conversations in the workplace that used to take place randomly in hallways and bathrooms are almost always planned and mediated by a computer now - with recording devices ready. All of a sudden, the data that was almost impossible to collect (how coworkers and organizations communicate) has become - dare I say it - easy to grab a hold of. All of a sudden we have somewhere to start in solving for miscommunications at work.
Organizations: do not let the opportunity to solve for this root-cause go wasted. Now is the time to start taking communication seriously. The obvious benefits to you, of course, will be in learning where, how, and why miscommunications occur; how to identify the patterns and environments that trigger them; and over time, being able to predict and prevent their occurrence altogether.
But there are other benefits as well: when you stop and analyze linguistic patterns, you aren’t looking at language within a vacuum - you are looking at language within a person. Paying attention to communication means listening to the people you interact with better, understanding who they are in a more nuanced way, and uncovering your own linguistic patterns that may have caused problematic interactions in the past.
Committing to solving for Communication-As-A-Root-Cause means taking a concrete and measurable step in creating a culture of safety and inclusivity for all of the diverse people in your organization. And perhaps the drive and opportunity to do that is the real takeaway that 2020, and the remote workforce boom, has given us.
About the Author:
Samantha Beaver has a Master of Arts in Applied English Linguistics and is the CEO/Founder of Memra Language Services. Learn more about how her company is solving workplace communication challenges with linguistics HERE.