North Central Business Journal News
UNCOOPERATIVE EMPLOYEES, PART 1
(April 2001 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
Recently a reader contacted me with the
employees are driving me up the wall. We are swamped with work,
and I tell them what needs to be done, and then I discover that they didn't
do it. Why can't they just do as I tell them?
Research indicates that most people do
not actually hear what is said to them. Research also indicates that
speakers assume listeners understood what the speakers intended to say,
which is actually rare. What happens with verbal communication is
that speakers use "shorthand" words to describe their ideas, which are
quite clear in their heads, but which may not be as clear to those who
are hearing. At the same time, listeners jump from the beginning
of what is said and complete the thought as they expect it to be completed,
and then start thinking of how to respond. In other words, they are
not actually listening beyond the first few words.
This pattern is made worse because a
large number of managers think as they talk, so that what they say at the
end is different from where they started talking. However, they remember
what their conclusion was, and expect the listeners to respond to that
conclusion. If the listening employees completed the original thought,
they are at a different place. Miscommunication has occurred.
To counter this normal human tendency,
managers can check that the employees heard what the manager said by asking
the employees to restate it. By the same token, it is helpful for
the manager to restate what an employee says before responding to it.
This ensures that the initial message has been communicated and understood.
It does not mean that the listener agrees with what the speaker said.
At first, this tactic feels strange and
appears to be time-consuming since everything gets restated twice.
But it actually reduces time because there will be fewer instances where
work gets done incorrectly or with the wrong priority. With practice,
this tactic becomes a natural communication style, and communication flows
It is also wise to follow verbal discussions
with a brief written record of the conversation. This initially appears
to be time-consuming, but it reduces the lost time caused by miscommunication.
When employees appear to be ignoring
the manager's directives, managers often get irritated with lazy, incompetent
employees, which may result in harsh words and increased tension.
It is helpful, however, to assume that the employee intends to do a good
job and simply did not understand what was expected. The manager
then provides the directive in writing and checks to be sure the employee
understands what is expected. If possible, explaining why will also
help the employee follow the directive as desired. This tactic keeps
defensiveness down and increases the likelihood that the employee will
now understand what was said and follow through on it. Communication
If the employee continues to disregard
an order, the manager then needs to confront the employee with the written
record of the previous communication and show the employee that the directive
has not been followed. Dealing with this situation will be
the topic of next month’s column.
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at