Hello and welcome to this week’s platform post — today’s topic: communication. Nothing in business or government happens without communication. Therefore, effective communication is one of the most vital skills anyone can have. The value of this skill is not just limited to leadership because every employee at every level must communicate the aspects of their job to someone else. Let’s talk about communication.
I subscribe to the Transactional Model of Communication. The exact theory is pretty unimportant. What is important is that a system or model of communication is used. There are better and more accurate models than the Transactional Model. However, it functions in 95%+ cases, which is good enough for me. I will describe the 30,000-foot elevation version of this model to you, then explain why it is so important in the county.
The basic principle of this communication model is that everyone is communicating an individual message. Many factors cloud how the message is sent and received, including social context, cultural context, mood, communication medium, ambient noise, and anything else that can be thought of. Here is an example of how medium can impact message delivery. A person asks if they can do something they’re not allowed to do. You call the person and say with a friendly chuckle, “No, you can’t do that.” The person hears the laugh and the tone of your voice and thinks the interaction is positive. Now imagine you replied to them via email and said, “No, you can’t do that. Lol.” How do you interpret this? I’m guessing that the impression was negative. Why, though? It was the same message. It is because the medium changes how we interpret the message.
Medium is one of many aspects of noise that can affect message delivery and interpretation. Not all noise is bad. If you’re having a meeting with someone that is an hour-long, taking five minutes in the beginning to build some rapport can strengthen later message delivery. How you feel about the person you communicate with changes how you interpret the message. Building rapport creates positive feelings and can improve message interpretation by the communicators. Of course, there is an extreme end of rapport-building that takes over and crowds out the purpose of the meeting. Everything in balance is essential for effective communication.
To communicate effectively, you must understand the limitations of the medium you’re using, the context of the person receiving your message, and how to deliver the message to maximize results appropriately. Consider email; how much of this can you know when you send the email? Two of the three factors. You have no way of knowing the person’s context on the other end. Think about it, have you ever read an email and thought the other person was being rude? Do you think they sent the message intending to be rude? It’s possible, but in most cases they sent the message with good intentions. This, among many other factors, is why email is such a poor primary communication tool.
As you are well aware by now, the current Auditor-Controller uses email as the primary communication tool for the office. It is very easy to misinterpret a message sent via email tonally, as I already described, but it’s also easy to misinterpret substance. Written communication is difficult, and the current A-C regularly “buries the lede” (read Friday’s press release for an example). Long, disorganized emails without clear action items cause misunderstandings. Is this a policy change, a request, an FYI? Does this apply to this situation or that? This change affects three other policies; are those changing as well?
We’re all guilty of sending the occasional email that creates more questions than answers, but imagine requiring every aspect of your work to flow through such a misunderstanding-prone medium. Now imagine making frequent and sweeping policy changes on a whim without considering all the consequences for your customers and stakeholders. They have to ask questions by email and wait patiently for a response, if they receive a response at all. Indeed, departments and business partners complain that they have to figure out how to comply with policy changes while waiting months to hear back from the A-C’s office. Of course, it should come as no surprise that leaving everybody to “figure it out” results in the submission of work the A-C then considers non-compliant. That’s not fraud, and it’s not errors committed by the people doing their best with incomplete information. It’s poor communication and it’s caused by the Auditor-Controller.
Communication isn’t just about the medium you choose. Part of communication is soliciting input from stakeholders and including them in decision-making. Not only will it help them understand a policy change better after it’s implemented, good communication helps craft good policy because decision-makers are better informed of the consequences and considerations of those affected. Understanding those consequences and considerations makes the policy stronger, implementation is easier, stakeholders are more invested, and subsequent work is more accurate and efficient.
Communication must be a commitment and a priority, not an afterthought. County departments, business partners, community members, and other agencies are all ringing the same alarm - they cannot get basic information from the Auditor-Controller because the office cannot or will not communicate effectively. We’re past the time for excuses.
When I am elected Auditor-Controller, I will make the commitment to prioritize communication because I understand that effective communication is fundamental to getting the job done. Vote Mychal Evenson for Auditor-Controller on June 7th, 2022. To help the campaign and spread the word, please follow the Facebook page (facebook.com/mychal4auditor), like and share our posts, and visit our website: mychal4auditor.com.