Noise: 1 - Voice: 0
The other day, the local SWAT team was out in force, doing some training on entries and apprehending suspects. (Yes, I'm still volunteering as their photographer, and yes, the book is still on target for a 2009 release... but more on that later.) A couple of challenging aspects of this particular training were the temperature and the facilities. For point of reference, an all brick/concrete building in the middle of an Iowa winter is COLD.
The SWAT team brought along a portable generator and some very high-powered heaters to mitigate the frigid temps, but they were EXTREMELY LOUD. While they helped provide some temporary respite from the cold, they made communication somewhat challenging. Orders of "Police! Put your hands on your head!" was generally met with a response of "Huh?" or "I can't hear you." Most of these guys have fairly booming voices, so for the heaters to compete for attention is fairly significant.
In communicating directions for our accomplishments, we sometimes don't realize that we're competing with noise. The noise is generally not obvious, and comes in the form of perceptions (have you ever tried listening to somebody you don't like), health (try communicating when tanked up on cold medicine), fear (everybody is wondering if they will have a paycheck next month), among other things.
How do you know if you are competing with noise?
- Body language: folded arms and lack of eye contact are generally good indicators
- Divide and conquer: ask multiple senders their interpretation of your message
- Feedback loop: are the responses fitting the message?
OK, those are the easy ones... the stuff they teach you in Communication 101. What happens when the noise is being created by something beneficial, like our heaters? What do you do when your message runs counter to a needed company policy, a popular employee benefit, or a sacred cow of your organizational culture? The first step for you as a communicator is to recognize this constraint. Too many people take corporate communication too lightly, only to be burned by their own messages. Once you know what you are up against, you can tailor your message and your medium to fit the audience and the situation. Keep in mind, your revised approach may mean that you AVOID or DELAY the communication. Also remember, your delivery of the message, no matter how well thought out or executed, may still yield a negative response. The trick to communicating your accomplishments is to be constantly and acutely prepared... loud heaters notwithstanding.