Bulletin Boards

Gerwig 2013-09-28

Walk into almost any local coffee shop and you’ll find a bulletin board like the one above. … In fact, bulletin boards are everywhere. In schools, at the work place, and at local coffee shops. Many of you even have one (or more!) at home. It hangs on the refrigerator or by the door to the garage or in your office.

On your bulletin board you put notes about your schedule. When to take the kids to the dentist. When the concert is at church. The number for the plumber. Pictures of your last vacation. A menu from a new neighborhood restaurant. A reminder to take the frozen lasagna out of the freezer. And on it goes.

Bulletin boards are helpful. They provide reminders. They help you communicate with yourself and others. They help others communicate with you. In short, bulletin boards act as a facilitator of communications. Yes, you can decorate them and hang your favorite pictures, but even pictures are a type of communication, a reminder of a best friend, family member or favorite vacation spot.

Many of my weekly articles in the last 2 ½ years have been on communication. As you already know, it’s critically important to leadership success. Great communication may not be sufficient to record excellent results, but it’s certainly necessary if an individual or organization is to sustain world-class results in a fast-moving, dynamic environment.

The coffee shop where this particular bulletin board was located is amazing. Or awesome if you’re so inclined. The baristas truly know their craft and prepare outstanding espresso based drinks. The mood here is an eclectic mix California hippie meets Northwest tree-hugger meets Harvard brainiac. I love it. It’s my kind of place. But while the mood is hip and the coffee is excellent, the bulletin board is rather normal. Nothing special. Just like all the other millions of bulletin boards around the world. Including the one in your home or apartment.

The reason I took a picture of the bulletin board wasn’t because it was something unique, but because it can represent a dangerous type of communication. One-way communication. Yes, there are some people who write notes back-and-forth on bulletin boards. Good for you! This can be very helpful. Yet most of the time, bulletin boards have something printed or hand-written. It is generally one-way communication. And, like you, I recognize that sometimes this is helpful.

For example, if there is a poetry reading at the local library, a flyer with relevant program details can be helpful. You might take a picture of it with your phone and add it to your calendar. However, perhaps there is a menu on the bulletin board that looks appealing, but you have a question for the chef, “Is that dish prepared with flour? I’m gluten sensitive.”

You see, a bulletin board (at least the kind pictured above) isn’t interactive. It’s one-way communication. If you have a question or clarification, you’re left to your own devices. … Note: various types of electronic bulletin boards and interactive media devices are changing this in many areas.

My point is really this: one-way communication can often be dangerous because you can’t confirm, clarify or challenge the information presented. Think about your week. Think about the conversations you had with family, colleagues at work, best friends, bosses, direct reports, your pastor, your kids, your parents, etc. Did you (or they) understand everything perfectly on the first go-round? Or did you need two-way communication? … If you’re like most people, you needed, and benefitted from two-way, versus one-way, communication.

Every day, I see people get frustrated, make errors, waste time, lose money, and damage relationships because of poor communication that stems from wrong assumptions and incorrect perceptions. This is often is the result of one-way communication.

There are countless ways to improve two-way communication. I’ll share two of my favorites. Why favorites? Because they work. First, ask questions. Don’t be afraid. Do it. Ask until it’s clear. Listen to the response. Ask as many questions as needed. But ask. … Second, if you’re the one making a request, end by saying something like, “Is that clear? or Does that make sense?”

These are both simple, yet extremely effectively methods for helping facilitate two-way communication. While there is a place in your life for bulletin boards, take it a step further and strive to make two-way communication part of your normal communication style. Ask questions. Seek confirmation.

How well do you communicate? What channels do you use? Have you ever had an issue caused by poor communication? An example where great communication saved the day? How do you practice two-way communications?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

– Robert

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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