I was wondering what happened to the nasty kids at my old school – the bully, the lout, the sadist. Are they managers now, submitting their staff to the same pain they once inflicted on smaller boys?


This musing followed my recent audit of the internal communications of an SME. The HR manager had asked for some training, but the budget was limited so I suggested a consultation exercise instead. 36 middle managers and supervisors attended one of six 90-minute meetings to discuss their communication challenges. I then presented a report to the owners. Confidentiality and anonymity were guaranteed throughout.

The same issues came up in every meeting – lack of information downward and across the organisation, and a feeling of not being listened to. It emerged that the management committee no longer met because of a breakdown in relationships. This was attributed by many to one particular manager, who opted out of the exercise.

One toxic manager can disrupt an entire organisation and sour its communication culture. Mr X was said to be a racist, and a micro-megalomaniac who insisted that all communication to his team went through him. He stayed in place, it was said, because he had personal leverage over one of the owners.

So in this business, a crucial conduit – channelling communication up, down and across the organisation – did not exist. Departments had become silos; senior management seemed remote and its decisions incomprehensible.

The exercise reminded of some basic questions all managers can ask themselves about their communication:

1. How much time do you spend telling people what to do, and how much time asking? Is the balance right?
2. Do you always give a reason when you tell or ask someone to do something? You should.
3. How much time do you actually spend talking to your people? 50 per cent is a good figure, according to a German consultant I know and trust. Try it. It is possible.

Steve Flinders is a freelance trainer, writer and coach, based in Malta, who helps people develop their communication and leadership skills for working internationally.

Email: steveflind@aol.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.’

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