It was an honor and a privilege to speak at the 2016 Tennessee School Nutrition Association Annual Conference in June, as well as the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania’s Annual Conference in July. With a background in marketing and communications, it felt appropriate for me to deliver an educational session at both conferences that touched on effective communication and cooperation practices for child nutrition programs. Although this topic was presented to those who work in child nutrition, these fundamentals of “C&C” can really be applied to any industry. Through this four-part series of blog posts, I will take you back to the basics to help you perfect the way you communicate and cooperate with those you work with and those you serve.
Let’s begin with communication. Communication is an art, and learning how to best communicate with one another is absolutely essential when it comes to keeping a happy staff, increasing efficiency in operations and overall running a successful child nutrition program. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to effective workplace communication.
This may seem cliché, but listening is really the most important fundamental of effective communication. Many times, we listen to respond rather than to understand. Christopher Morley once said “There is only one rule for being a good talker: learn to listen.” We were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason; we should be listening more than we speak!
If you are in a managerial role, it’s your responsibility to listen carefully to what your staff has to say. Find out what their needs, challenges and ideas are, and work closely with them to solve any issues they may be having. If you report to someone, listen carefully to their announcements and instructions the first time, so that they won’t have to be repeated. Don’t forget to listen to one another, and work as a team.
Finally, don’t interrupt! We all remember how rude and awkward it was when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift as she was trying to accept her award at the 2009 VMA’s. Even though we are grown-ups, this doesn’t mean we can abandon the manners we learned as kids. Let the other person completely finish their thought before beginning your own.
Hit the headline first.
When you listen to a television news broadcast or read a newspaper article, the 5 W’s and the H – who, what, where, when, why and how – are usually answered in the first one or two sentences. Consider adopting this practice in your communication, both written and verbal. Get right to the point when communicating with others. Use the “Inverted Pyramid” journalism tool by giving the most important details upfront, followed by the less important details, and end with information that is nice to know but not necessary.
Make it clear.
HR Magazine reported that in a survey of 4,000 employees, 46% routinely receive unclear instructions at work. Of those employees, 36% reported receiving unclear instructions up to 3 times a day, which equated to 40 minutes of wasted productivity each work day. In child nutrition, time is money! We don’t have time to continuously clean up mistakes made because instructions were misinterpreted.
Make sure to be very clear in your expectations when you are giving instructions. You can write down your instructions, give specific examples, demonstrate what needs to be done or even provide visuals.
Listen carefully to any instructions you are given the first time, however, don’t be too proud to ask to have them repeated if you didn’t hear correctly or are unclear on anything. You and your team would spend more time trying to fix any mistakes you might have made than you will having the instructions explained again.
Make it concrete.
Most people are visual learners, and remember important details when they are written down and accompanied by a photo. Providing visuals or signage in the workplace, whether you are in the cafeteria or in the office, can help your team to remember important practices and upcoming events. Think “Caution: Hot surface” or “Remember to turn off lights when you leave for the day.” types of signs. You can also create visuals to remind your staff of upcoming events, such as themed dress up days, or even Administrative Reviews (nobody likes to forget about AR day!).
Be thoughtful in your visual signage, however. Too many signs and posters can clutter up the workplace. And avoid passive-aggressive notes at all costs!
Be mindful of body language.
Sometimes we say the most by saying nothing. Our bodies and our facial expressions often clearly spell out the way we are feeling or what we are thinking, even if we don’t realize it. It’s important to be mindful of your own body language and the body language of others; what is being communicated without words?
Some examples of body language include crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, pointing at others, sighing, checking your watch or your phone or tapping your foot. If you are doing any one of these things, do you think that others will want to work with you or ask for your help? When others can sense from your body language that you are not interested in what they have to say, they’ll feel less likely to approach you, which leads to a serious lack of communication.