Professional Reputation In The Balance – Understanding The Expected Level Of Communication

Today at work within the span of one hour, there were demonstrations of the damage to your professional reputation that can be caused by both over-communicating and under-communicating with your peers and managers.

The under-communication example:  The assistant plant manager needed to round up a half-dozen employees, and had them called as a group over the plant’s PA system. All but one showed up. The asst. manager then called the missing person by name over the two-way radios we are all to carry in the plant. When he still failed to respond, I was called to search the facility for him. Once he was found, and the initial matter was taken care of, it was brought to his attention that his lack of awareness of the situation could have had serious consequences had the issue been an emergency. (It didn’t help that this wasn’t the first such incident, just the first time that it was someone that high up the ladder that was looking for him.

The over-communication example: The same assistant plant manager expressed his displeasure over a recent incident when the off-shift supervisor called him at 3 am to let him know that the plant was down due to a town-wide power outage. At our plant, late-night calls are not an infrequent occurrence, but the manager couldn’t figure out the purpose of this intrusive call. There was no question of what to do, there were no options, there was just a need for temporary down-time until the power company fixed the problem. This was purely an informative call, which could have waited a few hours until the morning.

The lesson here is to understand your audience, understand the relationship you have with them, and give them the level of communication they need to do their job, and that they request from you – no more, no less. The VP of quality assurance doesn’t care about the reactor size of your new process, she wants to know what considerations for product integrity were made. Your sales force is going to glaze over if you explain each step you needed to go through to expedite an order, they just want to know that you arranged for the product to be received on date X. And your direct manager will let you know the level of detail they want to hear about your work based on how much he trusts your ability to do it correctly.  Being able to read the room and the clues that your audience will send you about their interest makes the difference between being perceived as a professional and being seen as hopeless.


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