5 Communication Hacks to Bust Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy exists to maintain structure and efficiency within an institution. Yet many times employees experience the exact opposite.

Menial tasks have to go up the chain of command, feedback is never received, and work goes drudgingly slow. Like the feeling of walking through superglue, we get stuck.

While many give up on the spot, others utilize a simple skill that breaks the red tape. Communication. In fact, Joseph Grenny, Co-Author of Crucial Conversations, once said, “Anytime you find yourself stuck, there’s a crucial conversation keeping you there.”

To set yourself free, here are 5 communication hacks that will bust the bureaucracy and get you on with your work:

  1. Listen through the Grapevine. If you’re relying on the company newsletter to get all the facts, you’re being left in the dark. Research shows that informal communication, or the grapevine, is (1) quicker than formal channels, (2) about 75% accurate, and (3) the major source for employees to get on-the-job information. Listening through the grapevine will help you hear the unheard and get out of sticky situations in the present or near future.
  1. Ask Lots of Questions. Avery Augustine, a writer for The Muse, explains that to deal with bureaucracy “it doesn’t hurt to regularly communicate with your supervisor and ask what he or she knows about certain situations. I’ve found that even if my manager can’t give me many specifics, I can glean occasional nuggets of information.” If no one is talking, take a proactive approach and ask questions to your boss, direct reports, or even customers to fill in the missing pieces.
  1. Check for Understanding. Whether it be jargon or euphemistic language, organizations with lots of red tape make it difficult to understand what’s being said. Management expert, Ichak Adizes, iterates this when he said, “A bureaucratic organization is disintegrated. The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. That is reflected in their communication pattern too. One just does not understand what the speaker is saying.” By taking a brief moment to check expectations and commitments, you save yourself countless hours of confusion.
  1. Clarify Decision Making. Organizations get stuck when they can’t make effective decisions. But what organizations and teams fail to realize is that decision making has to be agreed upon up front if it’s to work. As mentioned by the authors of Crucial Conversations, you have to decide if decisions will be carried out more authoritatively in some circumstances, while through consensus with others. And the style will not always be the same. As Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, has pointed out, “There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.”
  1. Utilize Social Media. Digital engagement strategist, Debra Askanase, has said, “The social media savvy company is agile, creative, willing to take risks, transparent (or at least transparent in its use of social media), interested in customer feedback, eager to listen, and can make rapid decisions when necessary.” If no one is speaking out in the open, create discussions online. Some services allow teams to have real-time messaging, wiki pages, or social communities to enable fluid, frequent communication.

As any organization matures in its lifecycle, it naturally increases in complexity. And with that complexity begets more bureaucracy. To bridle this pull toward more rules and regulation, we can decide to speak up. We can decide to talk it out rather than act it out.

Author: Kelly Andrews

Kelly Andrews is part of the Development and Delivery team at VitalSmarts – makers of New York Times Bestseller Crucial Conversations. With a keen interest to empower behavioral change, he researches and writes on topics related to communication, eLearning, organizational change, and human resource management. Connect with and follow Kelly on LinkedIn here.

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