Verbal and nonverbal comunication barriers to a business .Paper instructions:Write a report on each of the three articles below that includes the following:
o A brief summary of the article that includes all of the main ideas discussed.
o An analysis of why you believe the article will appeal to your classmates in a business communication course and how it will relate to their needs.
o A correct citation of the article.
1. Nonverbal communication and business success
James Poon TengFatt. Management Research News 21.4/5 (1998): 1-10.
Verbal and nonverbal barriers to business communication
Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge and human power are synonymous.” Knowledge is a result of the patterning of perceived information, and communication of information is perhaps the most distinctive and the single most important human activity. Through communication, culture shapes the structures of human thought and behaviour. The way we experience the world can be said to be in many ways moulded by communication.
Any analysis of interpersonal communication is incomplete without considering beyond the mere use of language alone, for communication is not conducted entirely in words. Meaning is encoded in and transmitted by virtually every human behaviour. The meaning of any verbal communication is not to be found either in the words or the accompanying actions, but rather in the relationship of each to the other, and both in the context of the situation in which they occur.
One of the vital functions of nonverbal communication is to provide information or what Bateson (1980), in his book on Mind and Nature: A Necessity Unity, refers to as ‘news of difference’. Nonverbal communication increases the potential for conducting this ‘news of difference’ by directly offering information for comparing the spoken words with the speaker’s state of mind and experience. Nonverbal communication thus becomes the yardstick against which words and intentions are measured.
Considering that communication is important in human life, that nonverbal communication can continuously transmit information; and that knowledge and human power are synonymous, a thorough knowledge of the processes and uses of nonverbal communication can help managers to enhance their power, as measured by monetary success in the business world. This article therefore attempts to explore that vital link between nonverbal communication and business success which is becoming more profound in today’s world.
Most successful executives favourverbal rather than written modes of communication because it enables them to read body language and tone of voice, that is, toutilisenonverbal channels simultaneously. Many studies have pointed to the need for successful managers to be skilled in interpersonal relations because the ability to motivate others, to resolve conflict, and to promote cooperation is an integral part of successful performance at that level of responsibility and function.
The role of intuition, hunches, or judgement in executive success has often been a positive and an essential one. The successful executive’s hunch or intuition may have, in fact, derived from very specific information communicated nonverbally, whether or not he or she was aware of the source of information. Environments are invisible because their ground rules, pervasive structure, and overall patterns elude easy perception. However, nonverbal communication makes visible this invisible environment.
In order to make visible this elusive environment, students of linguistics, psychology and kinesiology have categorisednonverbal communication into `isolates’ (discrete, observable units of behaviour), ‘sets’ (groups of isolates), and ‘patterns’ (arrangements of sets) for a clearer understanding of the major types of nonverbal communication. These are summarised below:
As McLuhan (1987) noted, the content of speech is “an actual process of thought, which is in itself nonverbal.” It has long been recognised by psychoanalysts and linguists that information about these thought processes may be revealed in vocabulary, syntax, organisation, sequences of association, and omissions. The metameaning thus conveyed may illuminate or contradict the explicit content of the words spoken. In fact, successful psychoanalysis depends a lot on the astute observation and interpretation by the analyst of such metacommunication. When combined with paralanguage and body motion cues, metalanguage is an important source of information to any student of nonverbal communication.
Paralanguage deals with how something is said, and not with what is said. The components of paralanguage are:
1. Voice qualities – These include pitch range and control, rhythm control, tempo, articulation and glottis control, resonance, and vocal lip control. 2. Vocalisations – These consist of ‘vocal characters’ (laughing, crying, sighing, and clearing the throat); ‘vocal qualifiers’ (intensity, pitch, and duration of sound); and ‘vocal segregates’ (described as vocalised pauses: ‘um’, ‘ah’, and variants).
Body motion or kinesicbehaviour
This category includes gestures, movements of the head, upper and lower extremities, facial expressions, behaviour, and posture.
Ekman and Friesen (1969), early experts in nonverbal communication, classified these nonverbal acts as emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators, and adaptors.
Emblems are nonverbal acts which have a direct verbal translation such as the ‘peace’ sign. They are frequently used when verbal channels are blocked, or fail. The sign language of the deaf or of workers in an area where spoken communication is impractical, such as pilot to ground crew, are all “emblems.”
Illustrators are nonverbal acts which are tied to, or accompany speech, and illustrate what is being said verbally. Many gestures accompanying speech are descriptive illustrators. They are not as explicit as emblems.
Affect displays are simply the facial configurations which reveal emotional states. They can and usually do occur without awareness, and may repeat, augment, contradict, or be unrelated to the verbal message.
Regulators are nonverbal acts which serve to maintain and modulate the flow of speech and listening between interactants. Mainly involving head and eye movements, they may indicate attention and interest or lack of it, and a desire for the speaker to hurry up or slow down. Of all body and eye movements, regulators are among the most strongly culturally determined. Their improper usage often connotes rudeness.
Adaptors are among the most interesting, but most difficult to define, of nonverbal acts. They include postural changes and restless leg or arm movements, which might be interpreted as aggressive, seductive, or defensive. They may be triggered by verbal or nonverbalbehaviour, and they usually occur without the awareness of the subject.
These are influential nonverbal clues which are not movement-bound. They include qualities such as physique, general attractiveness, size, skin/hair colour and texture, relative health, and breath/body odours.
This is most common at greetings and departures. It is also one of the most strongly culturally determined of behaviour patterns.
Proxemics involves the use of and perception of space. Hall (1973) has studied this aspect of nonverbal communication most extensively, and has described personal and social categories of distance, with the following ranges being established for the average American:
Hall also comments on the types of space categories according to `distance receptors’. Although Americans rely primarily on visual and auditory input to determine distance, tactile space, olfactory space, and thermal space are also part of our perceptions of the relative nearness of other persons. The communicator must discover and then adjust to the conversational comfort-zones of the person being addressed, a skill that involves paying close attention to the associated body language.
This category of nonverbal communication includes the manipulation of objects such as perfume, clothing, cosmetics, and jewellery in contact with the interacting persons. Such objects act as nonverbal stimuli.
These include furniture and interior decoration, lighting, smells, colours, temperature, the addition of sound or music, and arrangement of space. Variations in arrangement, material, shape or surface of objects in the interacting environment can be extremely influential. Although the environment is not directly a part of human relationship, it impinges upon it, and can provide a window into the mind of the one who arranged it, as well as providing a means to affect the emotional and physical responses of those who share it.
Nonverbal Communication and Business Success
How can a knowledge of these nonverbal processes of communication enhance business success?
To answer that, it may be helpful to compare nonverbal communication to other modes of communication. There are eight features of media which can be compared and selected for maximum effectiveness according to purpose. These features are:
1. The senses they stimulate
2. The opportunity for feedback
3. Control of pace
4. Message codes
5. Multiplicative power
6. Power to preserve message
7. Power to overcome selectivity
8. Power to meet specialised means.
In terms of these criteria, face-to-face communication, which is heavily weighted with nonverbal information, stimulates the greatest number of senses, and provides more complete information than any other mode. It provides opportunity for rapid feedback and for control of pace; it offers a multiplicity of message codes (in face-to-face communication, a high proportion of all available information is nonverbal and is communicated on many levels in many ways); it provides the power to overcome selectivity (the interactants cannot change the communication channel), and it has the power to meet specialised needs. The only deficiencies seen in this comparison are the powers to preserve the message and to replace it. However, these are probably less potent factors in motivating, persuading, or influencing people toward a specific desired outcome.
Reading ‘nonverbal leakage’
It is clear to the astute observer that nonverbal communication conveys a lot of information not present in verbal communication alone. The unconscious is not hidden to anyone except the individual who hides from himself. By learning to meaningfully pattern information about the invisible environment as it is communicated by the silent language, the business person can increase his or her knowledge and therefore power in situations requiring skilled interactions or negotiations with other people.
As an example, the business person might use what he or she has learned about nonverbal communication in order to read what is called `nonverbal leakage’. This ‘leakage’ represents the true feelings which underlie the social mask. Although most of us can control our words and our faces better than the rest of our bodies, and consequently the movements of feet and hands, arms and legs often convey information of which we are unaware. This fact may be exploited in competitive interview situations, by placing the interviewee’s chair so that he or she is fully exposed to view, while the interviewers) is (are) screened by desks, tables, or other furnishings. Similarly, politicians may wish to structure speeches or video interviews by sitting behind a massive desk with as little of their bodies exposed as possible.
Some other ways in which information can be nonverbally ‘leaked’ include various autonomic physiological changes that are beyond deliberate, conscious control (except, perhaps to the yogi or other adept in the esoteric disciplines). Rates of breathing, perspiration, secretion of hormones, and temperature changes (manifested by change in skin colouration or olfactory emissions), as well as changes in pupil size, give continuous subtle information on the sites of relative tension, excitement, fear, aggression, or receptivity (as in the case of pupil size).
A dramatic example of nonverbal leakage was recently revealed in a study which presented convicted muggers with videotapes of random pedestrians in a public place. The muggers, interviewed separately, showed a striking tendency to identify the same people as victims. Careful examination of the ‘victims’ by a movement analyst showed common behaviours, which were perceived by the ‘muggers’ as communicating vulnerability. In discussing this finding, Bohannon (1981) comments that as armed robbers are in a state of heightened tension, they have to act on quick decisions in response to cues from their victims.
This study illustrates another potential advantage of the understanding and use of nonverbal communication: namely, the potential for identifying and modifying, eliminating, or enhancing one’s own nonverbal communications. For example, by learning what signs convey ‘victimhood’, one might avoid becoming a victim by a simple modification of gait or demeanour. This is equally true in terms of business survival.
One of the advantages of face-to-face communication is the opportunity for feedback. By reading this feedback, the business person can continuously tailor his/her approach to meet the specialised needs of each circumstance. Some strategies that have been identified for such modification include reinforcement, response-matching, and accommodation.
Reinforcement behaviour demonstrates approval or disapproval. It has been found that popular people use many reinforcement behaviours, particularly of a positive kind, and that persons who give strong signals of approval or disapproval are likely to have greater influence than those who produce neither or who approve of everything. Such individuals directly modify the behaviour of others, usually without the awareness of the other person.
Response-matching is a usually unconscious process by which one person in an interaction produces behaviour which closely resembles that of another. Similar styles of speech, or similar posture or gestures, may be adopted.
Deliberate response-matching employs this knowledge to produce behaviour change. For example, an anxious person may become calm when confronted with calm, collected behaviour in another, by matching the response with the stimulus. Conversely, anxiety often proves contagious, and can cause mass hysteria if response-matched by a group of people.
Accommodation is the adjustment of personal styles of the interactantsto each other. Accommodation is a continuous process, involving issues of territoriality, dominance/submission, and intimacy.
As an example of the importance of getting feedback, insurance professionals need to be open to feedback when making a presentation. Instead of getting too involved in the process of delivering the presentation, they should actively discover what the prospect thinks. To remind themselves of the need to stay open, insurance professionals need to stop, look, and listen. They should pause, look at the prospect, listen to what the prospect says, and note the body language. The prospect should be given the chance to comment or ask a question. A deliberate effort should be made to note what the feedback reveals and what it means for the presentation. Salespeople often tend to `freight-train’ their prospect. This occurs when salespeople become too eager, too enthusiastic, too overbearing, too impressed with how they are doing, and too immersed in themselves and their own view. Avoiding freight-training is vital in any situation where it is necessary to have a positive influence on someone else. Being aware of the feedback one gets from the prospect can certainly help to prevent freight-training.
Identifying indicators of ‘deception’
Many occupations involve repeated and prolonged ‘deceptions’ which are always open to challenge. For example, in the medical profession, nurses and doctors must appear to be reassuring, no matter what the diagnosis. The same applies to diplomacy and law or business and politics. Persons in these occupations become, in the course of their working lives, `professional nonleakers’, for they learn to control and reduce those behaviours which are tell-tale indicators of discomfort.
Most such behaviours are not perceived, at least consciously, by most people, although persons with ‘good intuition’ or ‘good judgement’ probably perceive them subliminally. The ability of the brain to perceive sublimal information with striking speed has been documented and exploited by the media (Key, 1981).
Some of these indicators of ‘deception’, as identified by movement analysis, include a decreased frequency of simple hand gestures; an increased frequency of hand-to-face contacts (touching the nose, covering the mouth, grooming hair/eyebrows, pulling earlobe); an increased number of body shifts (calling to mind the expression, ‘a shifty person’); the increased frequency of one particular hand movement, called the ‘hand shrug’, which seems to disclaim responsibility for the statements being made; and tiny, almost-invisible variations in facial expression, that – if perceived – can be one of the best deception clues.
Using nonverbal communication in sales
Nonverbal communication is very important in sales. It can tip salespeople off if the prospect is impatient and sceptical or enthusiastic and interested in the sales presentation. The beauty of nonverbal communication in selling is that the prospect may be revealing information without being aware of it. Salespeople can use this information in negotiations. If prospects make frequent eye contact, lean back to listen, and lean forward to speak, they probably will respond positively to the sales presentation. However, if prospects seem restless and fidgety and show signs of impatience, they are not interested in the presentation.
Any salesperson intent on achieving success knows that he or she must make the most of time, but this takes thought, determination and practice. To fidget, pace, lose eye contact, drum fingers, or constantly check the clock or watch is a sure symptom of inattentiveness, and the buyer can sense this immediately. Buyers are not prone to give orders to impatient sales representatives. Only practice and concentration enable a talented salesperson to show outward calm while exerting great effort to conserve time and keep things moving steadily toward a logical and profitable objective. Visible hurrying must be avoided. A salesperson can avoid lost time caused by unexpected delays by starting early and not putting oneself in a position of having to play catch-up.
Because body language and tone of voice account for 93 percent of what is communicated between two people, while words account for only 7 percent, words spoken at a trade show, for instance, have less of an impact on a prospect than how the prospect is greeted. One way to use body language to an advantage is to watch as people are walking in the aisle. By sizing up their moods and studying their deportment, the salesperson can be prepared to match it. This is a technique that psychologists call pacing or mirroring. Salespeople can match a customer’s posture, body language, and mood. Top sales producers become sophisticated biofeedback mechanisms, sharing and reflecting the customer’s reality. A salesperson who mirrors a customer’s behaviour well and out of a sincere desire to communicate or to be of service usually establishes a strong rapport with the customer. Once people are attracted to a salesperson, a friendly handshake can lead quickly to the qualifying process, particularly if it is part of a complete body communication process.
In sales presentation, salespeople must be observant of any negative thinking that might later lead to a lost sale. The time to begin the fortification programme is at the beginning, when the salesperson introduces self, company, and product. The slightest hint of an arbitrary mood on the part of the prospect should trigger an alert. When salespeople offer their presentation to their customers, they should concentrate on those persons as human beings. Salespersons must be truly interested in their customers and must convey a spirit of friendship, which becomes the bonding agent between buyer and seller. Thus, it is important to be observant of customer’s behaviour, including questions, facial expressions, and body language. Patience, observation, and intuition aid in determining when the right time to close occurs.
For insurance salespeople, one of the primary challenges involves dealing with the different personalities they encounter. Each situation is unique because of the human factors involved. There are four primary personality types with which the salesperson must be able to communicate.
1. The results seeker: a risk-taker with little patience for mistakes. This person will react well to salespeople who are straightforward with policy information.
2. The detail seeker: an analytical thinker who fears criticism and keeps some personal space in dealing with other people. The salesperson should avoid being too relaxed and informal and be certain that information given is complete and detailed.
3. The excitement seeker: an expressive socialiser who fears the loss of social approval and is thus motivated by comfort and convenience. The salesperson must seek to keep the interview on target and appear enthusiastic.
4. The harmony seeker: a steady and amiable person who fears loss of security. The salesperson must be warm in body language and conversation.
Although people rarely fall into one stereotypical style exclusively, having a knowledge of the nonverbalbehaviour of such people can help one make the sales.
According to research and expert opinion, saleswomen are generally more productive than salesmen. Despite this fact, only about 20.5 percent of all professional salespeople are women (Boyan, 1989). Some women excel men in professional selling for various reasons. For example, it seems that women tend to be less threatening and warmer, and some are more patient with customers. In addition, women tend to display more sensitivity in the selling situation than men, they listen and express themselves better than men, and they are more service-oriented. Women are also very intuitive about subtle cues in body language and vocal signals. All of these characteristics are helpful in cold call selling. The bottom line seems to be that women are more knowledgeable about nonverbal communication and they practise it.
Using nonverbal communication in negotiations
Success in cross-cultural negotiations requires an understanding of others and using that understanding torealise what each party wants from the negotiations. The proficient international negotiator understands the national negotiating style of those on the other side of the table, accepts and respects their cultural beliefs, and is conscious of personal mannerisms and how they may be viewed by the other side. Other factors which must be taken into account in international negotiations include: 1. differences in decision making; 2. status protocol; 3. social aspects of negotiations; 4. how time is viewed; and 5. personal relationships. A good knowledge of nonverbal communication is useful to negotiators especially in international negotiations.
In the insurance business, a lack of negotiation skills can kill a sale. Every agent, marketing representative and underwriter should have negotiation skills. Agent and underwriters spend years learning technical skills, but people skills are just as important. Insurance professionals typically receive no training in negotiation but have more need of this skill than do most other professionals. Negotiation is the process of guiding a discussion of differing wants and needs toward a mutually rewarding agreement. Active listening is a crucial part of effective negotiation. It is also important for the insurance professional to pick up on the speaker’s tone of voice and body language. The insurance team will then be able to develop a reassuring team attitude with the use of good negotiation and communication skills, coupled with nonverbal communication.
Using the subtle signals of success
Successful people act as if they know what they are doing. Being aware of certain aspects of nonverbal communication can help people get their message across and prevent them from being misunderstood. There are a number of strategies that people can use to control a situation:
1. Remain calm and self-assured.
2. Honour both decorum and self-worth when insulted.
3. Calculate responses to situations carefully when in front of an audience.
A handshake sends a message of acceptance if it is firm and comfortable. When a person needs to sway a group to a particular point of view or to sell something, unflinching eye contact is essential. When listening, people should lean forward slightly, keep quiet, and concentrate. In most professions, it is ideal to have a prescribed type of nonverbal communication that seems to work best.
Coding nonverbal communication
Although it is possible to modulate the course and outcome of many interactions by awareness and control of factors in nonverbal communication, it is still difficult to prescribe specific behaviours that will insure success. For example, environments, such as use of space and interior decoration, may be carefully constructed according to known principles, and artifacts may be skilfully chosen to enhance one’s image (as in the concept of ‘Dress for Success’), yet, ultimately, each human interaction is unique and arises spontaneously from a variety of variable determinants. While knowledge of these variables, such as cultural patterns, is essential in understanding a situation, it would be naive to accept the advice of some authors who profess to provide specific meanings for each and every gesture or manner of speech. Like the authors of ‘dream dictionaries’ who establish specific content for each dream image, these writers miss the point that nonverbalbehaviour is a continuous process requiring simultaneous evaluation, integration, and synthesis on many levels.
The effective nonverbal communicator is a good listener and observer who utilises the information from nonverbal sources to overcome barriers to communication, such as fear or distrust, and to promote ‘resonance’, meaning `to amplify by sympathetic vibration’. Resonance develops in the context of effective communication, rapid feedback, trust, and a common code, and executive success depends heavily upon the ability to establish these conditions.
Considering the general invisibility and silence of nonverbal modes of communication, the ability to perceive and use these modes can provide the business person with an ‘extra’ – a power sometimes called charisma, or intuition, or good judgement, all of which have been identified with the successful executive. However, it may be worth noting in this regard that women, as a group, score much higher on tests of nonverbal sensitivity than do men, and that there is some evidence that powerless people, such as oppressed minority groups, generally display superior awareness of nonverbal signal, perhaps because the powerless develop this acuity as a matter of survival. Therefore, it does not appear that nonverbial ability in itself is a guarantor of increased power and/or success, but rather is only one of many skills useful to the business person.
Of all predictors of success, whether in terms of status, recognition, or monetary reward, motivation has been found to be the most consistent factor. Possibly the most relevant, valuable feature of knowledge of nonverbal communication has been stated by Hall (1973):
“By broadening his conception of the forces that make up and control his life, the average person can never again be completely caught in the grip of patterned behaviour of which he has no awareness.”
Bateson, Gregory. (1980). Mind and Natu.re: A Necessary Unity. New York: Bantam Books.
Bohannon, Paul. (1981, March). “A Primer for Victims,” Science, 81: 2(2), p.26. Boyan, Lee. (1989, November). “Who’s More Productive?” American Salesman 34(11), pp. 16-19.
Ekman, Paul and W.V. Friesen. (1969). “The Repertoire of NonverbalBehaviour: Categories, Origins, Usage, and Coding.” Semiotics 1, pp.49-98.
Hall, Edward T. (1973). The Silent Language. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Garden City.
Key, Wilson B. (1981). Sublimal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation ofa Not So Innocent America. New York: New American Library.
McLuhan, Marshall. (1987). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. London: Ark.
2. Avoiding communication barriers leads to successful sales
Feiertag, Howard . Hotel and Motel Management 218.7 (Apr 21, 2003): 16
These days the best sales folks are those who do a better job of listening than talking. The successful, professional salesperson asks good questions, listens well, relates to the prospect’s response, and is aware of remain verbal and body language that might deter from the sales process. Barriers to communication include: 1. fidgeting, 2. crossed arms, and 3. interrupting.
From time to time, we’ll hear folks comment about a small child who talks a lot. Sometimes people say, “That child is a good talker; he will grow up to be a good salesperson.” That could be true.
However, these days our best sales folks are those who do a better job of listening than talking. The successful, professional salesperson asks good questions, listens well, relates to the prospects response, and is aware of remain verbal and body language that might deter from the sales process.
The following tips can be helpful to understand some “turn-offs” when selling.
Eye contact. Good eye contact is essential. Roving eyes show a lack of interest in what a prospect might be saying. We see much of this at cocktail parties and trade shows.
Sunglasses, and even outdoors in bright sunlight, you cannot do a good job of selling if a prospect cannot see your eyes.
Fidgeting. Most of the time, we do this unconsciously, but we have to be aware of this. It’s distracting to someone who wants your full attention.
Crossed arms. This is something we also do unconsciously. Sometimes salespeople don’t know what to do with their hands, so crossing their arms is comfortable. However, it creates a barrier to good communications.
Crossing legs. This is another barrier created when sitting opposite a prospect during discussions. A psychologist once said to watch the other person, and if they cross their legs then you should do the same. So maybe that works, too.
Interrupting. This is common with sales folks. We want to show that we understand what they are about to say, so we interrupt and say it for them, or we interrupt to reinforce what a prospect might be saying to make a point about a feature of our product that could work well for them. Many eager salespeople feel they have to get their point across at that time. This is another distraction to people who are speaking.
Chewing. OK, we don’t see this too often, but I have to mention it because sometimes we don’t realize that we have a piece of gum or mint in our mouths.
Tables. We see this quite often at trade shows in which a table is set up in a booth and a salesperson talks to prospects from behind the table. Restructure the booth so that table could be set up against a wall, and work from the front of the table so there’s no barrier between the salesperson and a prospect.
Conference tables. Sometimes a salesperson might have discussions with a group in a conference room with everyone sitting around a table. This could create a barrier. A good idea would be for the salesperson to locate a seat next to the prime decisionmaker of the group, creating close access.
Office desks. It’s not a good idea to have a selling opportunity in an office, sitting behind a desk Your office, with a desk barrier, creates an intimidating situation. Move to a barrier-free environment, such as in a couple of easy chairs in the office or in another location.
3. How to Read Non Verbal Communication in Organisations
Larson, John; Kleiner, Brian H
. Management Research News 27.4/5 (2004): 17-22.
Non verbal elements of communication are often overlooked and considered relatively insignificant in the overall communication process. Most studies performed in this area, however, dispute this perception and credits the non verbal aspect with being a major contributor to the process of human communication.
In order to stress this importance, consider what occurs when verbal versus non verbal messages received are in conflict. This results in a distrust of the sender. To resolve this conflict, the receiver will typically accept the non verbal message over the verbal one. This human behavioural trait helps substantiate the old adage that “actions speak louder than words”.
Non verbal communication comprises a large area of human behaviour consisting of numerous distinctive elements. The following discussion will focus on the non verbal messages which pervade the businessorganisation, which when correctly interpreted, can reveal an organisation’s values and culture.
A culture is the collection of external influences which can create an environment, and includes such things as knowledge, beliefs, morals, customs, and policies. It is important to understand that cultures are learned, they vary, and they influence behaviour. A very descriptive definition of an organisational culture is offered by Marvin Bower, author of The Will to Manage, who describes the informal cultural elements of a business as “the way we do things around here”.
Every organisation has a culture. Regardless of whether the culture is weak or strong, it has a powerful influence on practically every occurrence in the organisation. It affects the way people dress, the working conditions, who gets promoted, and it even influences the individual’s after work activities.
The culture is made up of various elements, but values are at the very heart of it. Values are what provide the unified direction for everyone in the organisation, and they establish the constraints on daily behaviour.
Cultures vary significantly between organisations. Acceptable behaviour in one company would not be allowed by another. A manager who achieved outstanding results in one company can apply those same techniques in a different company with disastrous results. The culture determines what works and what does not. Recognising the tremendous impact the culture has, it becomes apparent that a person’s success within a given organisation is very much a function of how well he works within the guidelines that the culture has established.
Having identified the importance of working within a culture, it seems reasonable to surmise that one’s ability to read and interpret the culture is a key factor to success within that organisation. Let us now examine the various non verbal messages which give us some insight into the values and overall culture of the organisation and the people working within it.
A company’s facilities are a very visible statement about its culture. Senior managers usually make the building investment decisions, and these are the same people whose primary function is to manage the organisation’s culture. Therefore, a company with a strong culture and a lot of pride in itself will typically reflect that pride through its physical environment. Bold statements echoing the perceptions that companies have about themselves can be found everywhere. Bank of America’s San Francisco head-quarter is a large, dark structure that dominates the skyline and is out of scale with all of the other buildings around it. This is a powerful indication of how they perceive themselves.
Digital Equipment Corporation’s refurbished mill site makes the statement that they are a modern company (by the physical appearance of the facility) but they have their roots in New England, therefore respecting tradition. An image of stability and importance is conveyed by the fortress-like headquarters of General Electric in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The location of the company’s buildings along with the consistency of locations also makes a statement about its beliefs. For example, the corporate headquarters may be a spectacular facility in a most desirable location, while the division sites are run down buildings in nondescript locations.
This inconsistency does not say much about the way upper management feels about its employees and probably points to a fragmented culture. Considerations must be given to the age of the facility, its purpose, and the use of its environs; however, the indications are usually clear.
The office environment gives additional insight into the culture. A company that encourages constant communication among members of a group will provide an office environment that is open and unencumbered by walls. Individuals may be separated into distinct cubicles by low partitions, or there may be no partitions at all. In either case, the symbolic barriers to communications (such as high partitions or floor to ceiling walls) are noticeably absent.
The office furniture, or the discrepancies in the types of office furniture, provide additional understanding of the culture.
Companies which are very formal, tend to be heavily regulated, and/or are very procedure oriented have tightly structured hierarchies which resemble class systems. One of the ways in which this class system is visibly manifested is through the office furniture. An individual’s position in the hierarchy can be readily determined by the type of furniture he possesses. For example, the lower class may have a small steel desk and a simple chair. The next class may have the same desk, but have a chair with arms and a small table. As you progress up the class system into the managerial ranks, your furniture may consist of a large desk, conference table and chairs, and a bookshelf. Finally, vice presidents have those items plus thick carpeting, sofa, and other accoutrements.
The formal meeting contains a wealth of information that can provide knowledge of the organisation’s culture. All companies employ formal meetings in some form, however, the various components which comprise these meetings can vary widely between organisations. The following is a look at these various aspects of meetings.
Quantity Held – The number of formal meetings that are held varies considerably. Some organisations require many, others very few, if any. Formal companies may have regularly scheduled meetings with structured agendas because “that is what we have always done”. Newly formed companies may do the same thing for a different reason. They may have many regular meetings just to establish the lines of communication among people who have no history of working with each other (i.e., no strong culture to guide them).
Where They Are Held – Meetings may be held in formal conference rooms or in more informal settings.
Shape of the Table – A large table with a very distinct head is likely to be found in formal organisations with tightly structured hierarchies. This type of a table reinforces that hierarchy. On the other hand, round conference tables tend toequalise peer standings among the participants of the meeting.
Who Attends – In a company with a formal culture, regular meetings are attended only by peers. In more informal cultures, these meetings may be comprised of both junior and senior members of the organisation.
Who Sits Where – In structured, formal organisations, the boss is at the head of the table, with his most important people seated next to him. The hierarchy is very clear in this type of an organisation when people sit down at the conference table. The closer you are to the head of the table, the higher you are in the hierarchy. In less structured organisations (such as many new, high-tech firms), there are no “reserved” seats at the conference tables and attendees sit wherever they choose.
Format – The degree of formality existing in the company’s culture is often directly related to the formality of the meeting. Some regular meetings are extremely formal with highly structured agendas, possibly even consisting of sophisticated multi-media presentations. No one speaks out of turn, and all participants know their role. Other meetings have a very loosely structured agenda along with an atmosphere of give and take throughout the course of the meeting.
There is no attempt here to make judgements as to which meeting form works better. The point being made is that the meeting is a reflection of the culture. By noting the different meeting aspects, one can gain insight into the company’s culture.
How do people in the organisations present themselves? The answer to this question varies between organisations and will also be a function of physical locations. Nevertheless, the values of the area or region of the country in which you are operating are a part of your company’s culture. It is one element of your environment, and therefore influences your culture.
Manner of dress is a highly visible non verbal sign. Highly structured organisations will typically reflect that formality in the way the employees dress. Conservative business suits prevail in these types of cultures. In contrast, informal, loosely structured organisations such as some newer hightechbusinesses, accept a very casual manner of dress. Tennis shoes and Tshirts is not uncommon attire for technical professionals in some of these organisations. Companies that operate in industries that entail high risk and generally get quick feedback regarding their decisions tend to have a culture where the individual is stressed. In these cultures, people typically dress in a fashionable manner. There is an effort made to look different from their peers, but not too different. The latest trends in fashion are commonly found in these cultures. Examples of industries falling into this catetgory include advertising, venture capital, and the entertainment industry.
How are people initially greeted in this organisation? The characteristics of the reception area more than likely reflect the values. Characteristics include formal vs. non-formal, simple vs. ornate, and fashionable vs. conservative. In organisations that are very customer service oriented, you will more than likely be serviced immediately, your coat taken and a cup of coffee offered. In contrast with this greeting, in the individualistic cultures mentioned in the previous paragraph you are likely to be paid little attention by the receptionist and wait for long periods of time for your appointment. This is a reflection of the culture that caters to its stars; if you are not one, you can wait. In the environment which is laden with bureaucracy, you will probably be subjected to an elaborate sign-in procedure, involving security, phone calls, and appropriate company badges.
A strong emphasis on culture and its role in the success of so-called excellent companies can be found in current management literature. One of the views that has been furthered in some of the more contemporary writings has been the theory that the organisational structure and strategy may be more symbolic than anything else. The organisations with strong values will reflect those values and beliefs through the formal organisational design.
Examining the formal organisational structure can prove to be quite enlightening. If all key positions in the organisation are filled by ex-sales persons, for example. it is rather clear that the company is sales oriented, and the road to the top goes right through that department. Let us look at the example of a company that puts a strong emphasis on tightly controlling costs as part of its inherent strategy. What will their organisation structure look like? Typically, the controller and the vice president of finance would be prominent members of the top management team. In many cases, the divisional controllers would report directly to the corporate controller rather than through the division general manager. This company’s management systems will be geared towards budget development and control.
A company whose values centrearound the marketing function will most likely have several senior marketing vice presidents in its top management structure. Similarly, within companies that focus on the research and development aspect, you are likely to find ex-engineers occupying prominent positions in the top management team. It is important torecognise that organisational values play a crucial role in determining how far one can progress within a company.
There are many other non verbal signs that exist in the organisational environment that provide insight into various aspects of the company. The formal title that a person possesses allows you to determine where he or she fits into the hierarchy. In bureaucratic companies, titles and classes are sometimes inseparable. Other symbols which indicate position in the hierarchy include parking spaces, the privilege of using the executive dining room, the ability to come and go during working hours (such as leaving the building for coffee), and your work schedule. The formal memo system within an organisation provides culture indicators. The quantity, length, and formality of the memo are reflections of the amount of bureaucracy which exists, the degree of formality that is present, and the desired means of
communication throughout the organisation. For example, companies that encourage a lot of face-to-face, daily interaction among members will generally have far fewer formal memos than companies who do not stress this philosophy. A person who has volumes of technical books and/or journals in his office and certificates and degrees on the walls is communicating a message to the observer. This message is that he is keeping up with his field. He is saying that he went through the proper procedures and is qualified for the job he is doing. In most cases the books are not heavily used for his work, but their symbolism is more important than their functionality. People who most frequently exhibit this tendency include doctors, some technical people, and people in the academic world such as university professors.
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