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Improving Your Ability to Communicate

Improving Your Ability to Communicate

How transparent communication improves teamwork around the lab

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Communication is a key skill for any lab manager. Managers are asked to communicate in many different ways for many different reasons. Poor communication around the lab leads to unnecessary conflict, hurt feelings, and missed deadlines. The key to effective communication is understanding and being understood. Being more transparent in your communication is a good way to avoid some of the issues caused by poor communication. 

Transparency in communication is a mixture of being authentic and genuine, and using the elements of effective communication. Being authentic and genuine is a willingness to share not only your opinions, but to reveal some of the motivations and reasons behind those opinions. As we share about ourselves, people get to know a little more about us—this strengthens work relationships and builds trust. Sharing some of our feelings about the issues around the lab also models the same behavior for the rest of the staff, which can lead to deeper and more constructive conversations about the issues and decisions that impact the lab.

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Transparency is also aided by sharing a little vulnerability with others. Showing vulnerability as the leader helps to build emotional safety in the lab, and enables others to share more of their ideas, be more creative, and more readily ask for help. Some examples of showing vulnerability around the lab include asking for help, admitting a mistake, and valuing candor. Recent research indicates that humility may be the most important leadership trait. Humble leaders demonstrate more open communication and develop higher-performing teams.

The seven Cs of communication

Another way to improve communication is to use the seven Cs of communication, as developed by Cutlip and Center. These elements of effective communication were originally developed for public relations, but they are equally valuable for all manners of communication. All of these elements will make it easier for others to fully understand the message, which is the key purpose of communication. Each of the seven elements aid transparency by making the intent obvious and easy for others to understand and act.

1. Clear

Clear communication means to state the message directly using simple and appropriate language. There is no subtle interpretation needed to fully understand the intent of the message. There is no clutter interfering with the message or special decoding needed to act on the intent.

2. Concise

Concise communication is about using the right few words to construct the message. It enables people to understand the intention quickly and easily. Being concise builds transparency because the point of the message is specific and readily available—not hidden among extra words.

3. Concrete

Concrete communication produces a crisp picture of the intention. It focuses the communication of the desired actions and responses. Appropriate visual aids, like charts, graphs, and pictures, help make messages more concrete.

4. Correct

To be believed and trusted, it is vital that the messages be truthful and honest. Base communication on facts and data, and take the time to double-check the details for accuracy.

5. Coherent

Coherent communication enables us to connect the dots for the staff. We can be logical, consistent, and eliminate diversions and sidebars from the main message. Repeating key themes across different messages and different modes of communication will help to build greater coherence.

6. Complete

It really helps the lab staff when communication is complete. The message contains all of the information needed to guide the desired actions. Complete messages provide the necessary details, the call for action, and ensure no significant gaps of information. One complete message is much more effective than several partial messages. Complete messages help transparency by ensuring the whole thought is in one place. The reader doesn’t need to guess which messages to assemble to have all of the needed information.

7. Courteous

“Courtesy costs nothing, but buys everything” is wisdom shared by Ali ibn Abu Talib. It was true in the seventh century CE and is just as true today. Our communication is more effective when it is kind, respectful, and compassionate. Courtesy helps demonstrate that we care about the listener.

Positive communication

Another way to introduce more transparency to our communication is to introduce more positive elements. Mirivel describes six elements of positive communication that can really help lab managers connect with their staff.

1. Greet

Warm greetings help people feel seen and appreciated. Greetings can be very simple, or can open the door to deeper conversations. Using them helps staff know you appreciate them.

2. Ask

Asking questions, especially from curiosity, helps us learn. Staff know many things about the lab, the science, and the stakeholders. The questions you ask help people understand what you care about and what is important to you.

3. Compliment

Small compliments and praise show your desire to appreciate the contributions of staff and demonstrates your respect for their effort and energy.

4. Disclose

When we share about ourselves, we provide insight into our reasons and motivations. Sharing helps to provide context about decisions and gives staff a clearer vision of how you want the lab to function.

5. Encourage

Lab managers have many opportunities to give support to staff. Providing the support that is needed, when it is needed, helps people understand that you care about them and their work.

6. Listen

Listening might be the most important communication skill. Listening is the only way to effectively bridge the differences between people and to enable everyone to contribute to their best ability. Great leaders are also great listeners. If you really want to be more transparent in your communication, developing a clear and open listening style would be a great place to start.

Transparent communication brings many benefits. The most important are genuinely understanding and being understood. Using the elements of effective and positive communication will enhance the transparency of your communication. You will see a clearer response to your messages, greater authenticity in the lab, and improved work relationships that will yield greater happiness, productivity, and retention.