Effective Communications Skills in HRM
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Critically analyse the importance of effective communication skills in relation to the practice of Human Resource Management.
In a workplace increasingly swirling with change, where the people part of the equation is increasingly critical to organizational success, getting communication right could be the defining factor in gaining competitive advantage. The importance of human capital: the idea that people are increasingly the only asset that differentiates one organization from another; puts human resource management (HRM) squarely at the forefront of the rapid change toward an information based economy. People need to know what's in it for them and HR program components hold the answers. The best designed benefits package or most elegant compensation design will fail if no one fully understands and appreciates it. Thus, no other function could benefit from effective communication skills more than human resources.
Broadly speaking, effective communication is "leader-driven and attempts to help people understand the market forces that shape the actions and strategy of the business." (D'Aprix, 1996) This means that communication planning should incorporate how to drive employee behaviour to fulfil business outcomes, not simply the tactics and channels used to disperse information to a workforce. The result for business, and hence HRM, has been the challenge of getting the right people in the right place doing the right work in the right way. It may sound simple but is complicated by the simultaneous demographic changes challenging the working world. The population is aging with more employees wanting to stay put for longer at one end of the spectrum, while at the other end younger workers are moving more often. However, 75 percent of the jobs available are in the information, technology and service sectors, areas which traditionally skew toward younger applicants. Amid this change, HR and other managers are faced with rallying their people around a set of common goals aimed at winning in the marketplace, and building such affiliation by negotiation among various employee groups is no easy task.
Indeed, effective negotiation skills involve not only getting your message across to another person, but learning how to read what the other person is saying to you. This means not only listening to other people's words, but also learning to interpret their body language. It also means learning to communicate without pre-empting other people or making them defensive. (Griffin, 1998) Studies on audiences' reactions to speeches show that a speaker's persuasive powers come from not just what is said but the way the speaker looks and sounds. Since the nonverbal cues you project are as powerful as the verbal ones, first, determine what it is you want the person you're communicating with to do, then select an appropriate combination of words and body language to convey your message in order to communicate effectively and influence them in negotiations. The ultimate goal is to include others in the communication process without coming across as threatening, in order to minimise conflict and stress, which are both increasingly critical problems in the modern workplace (Sanchez and Dempsey, 2002)
Management style is the key to effective communication skills, and thus managers need to establish a style that makes them feel comfortable, in order to avoid stress for both themselves and their staff. For example, some managers may be comfortable getting personal with employees; while others may not and thus should not. Whatever style managers do adopt, in order to be effective they must be sure to use it consistently with all employees, as the biggest source of anxiety for both managers and employees is unclear or inconsistent instructions (Griffin, 1998). Also, to improve the handling of discipline and grievances, managers should be accessible and available when employees seek them out, to avoid grievances or problems escalating. To handle and prevent grievances, managers should be generous with as much positive feedback as possible, and include helpful criticism which focuses on the results of employees' work. Listening to complaints without being defensive, and sympathizing with people so that they know they're getting through, are also critical skills for handling grievances, which can otherwise spread and harm morale and productivity (HR Briefing, 2000).
However, whilst conflict is often viewed as a problem to be avoided, conflict is also an opportunity to improve communications, build teamwork and relationships, and learn about the wants and needs of others. When conflicts arise, they don't have to be immediately resolved, and often an attempt to do so results in cutting off communication. Indeed, in most instances it's better for HR managers to act on conflict when they have more information, instead of approaching the problem at a time when tempers are likely to flare. Even in situations where a serious confrontation is unavoidable, and could result in a resignation or serious industrial unrest, managers can ease the tension by making sure to give themselves time to carefully formulate a response.
In conclusion, the key to a beneficial HR and internal communication relationship is cooperation and mutual respect instead of competition, conflict, or worse, indifference. Communication cannot be an afterthought relegated to the bottom level of HRM considerations, and restricted to writing e-mails and conducting formal appraisals By recognising the importance of effective communication, HRM can deliver more effective services and ensure accomplishment of its people mission with communication being the critical success factor. In contrast, if HRM fails to develop its communication skills to a truly effective level it risks failing to fulfil its mission of developing, retaining and rewarding the talent necessary for a business to succeed. In extreme examples, ineffective communication can even create problems itself, especially in times of change or uncertainty, when clear, consistent communication is vital to maintaining employee and managerial morale and productivity.
- D'Aprix, R. (1996) Communicating for Change: Connecting the Workplace With the Marketplace. Jossey-Bass.
- Griffin, J. (1998) How To Say It At Work. Prentice Hall Direct.
- HR Briefing (2000) Wrong words and moves create conflict. Aspen; 1st July 2000, p. 7.
- Sanchez, P. and Dempsey, T. (2002) Communication --the critical success factor. Strategic HR Review; Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 24