There are new books or articles on business or personal communication every year. While the mediums we use to communicate have changed with technology, there is really nothing new in the challenges we face when it comes to high-quality, effective communication. I recently conducted research into communication frequency and the relationship with communication satisfaction for remote biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs). The results were not surprising, but it also uncovered some interesting data regarding job satisfaction that can apply to all employees. This article outlines the general problem, several communication theories, results of my research, and recommendations to improve communication—as well as job—satisfaction.
First, we need to look at what communication actually is. Comprised of five parts, the communication process involves a sender and a receiver. The five parts include:
- An idea. The sender has an idea;
- The message. The sender encodes the message in a channel;
- Transmission. The channel then carries the message to the receiver;
- Decoding. The receiver decodes the message; and
- Feedback. The receiver offers feedback about the message.
In this communication process, many barriers can affect the encoding and decoding of the message. A few of the obstacles that may interfere with the communication process include verbal and nonverbal gestures, personal beliefs, and assumptions. More frequent communication can help reduce these barriers.
As remote employees become more popular—with the popularity expected to increase according to surveyed executives—several factors will impact remote BMETs’ communication and job satisfaction, which include communication satisfaction with a manager, coworker, general communication, and frequency of communication. With multiple variables involved in the communication process, it leaves plenty of room for breakdowns and misunderstandings. In this high-paced work environment, we are asked to do more work with fewer resources all the time. This need creates a necessity to multitask. However, multitasking during communication interactions sets the stage for missed messages or improperly communicated information. Establishing a formulated plan to communicate with remote BMETs can help ensure that communication satisfaction and job satisfaction are impacted in a positive manner.
The purpose of many types of communication is to persuade another person; to convince them of something. Carl Hovland and colleagues developed the general model of persuasion in the 1940s.1 The model specifies four categories in persuasive communication that determine the communication’s effectiveness. The four categories include the characteristics of the communicator, the message, the channel, and the audience.
- Communicator characteristics include the status and reputation of the person delivering the message. These characteristics make the deliverer of the message more credible.
- Message characteristics include understandability of the message and repetition of the message.
- Channel characteristics are the medium through which the message is delivered. More complex messages are better understood through the written word.
- Audience characteristics involve whether or not the recipients of the message are intelligent and informed about the topic.
Two of the four categories can be mainly affected when communicating to remote BMETs. Message characteristics can be diminished if the manager does not communicate with the employee often enough to focus on repetition. When working with remote employees, or any employee, a message delivered only one time can have a minimal impact. If the message regards a change in process or policy, the message needs to be clear and delivered several times, and, perhaps in several different ways, for it to be lasting. People are creatures of habit, and habits do not change overnight.
Channel characteristic can also have an impact on communication quality. The message clarity and understandability can be affected if the majority of the conversations are via telephone and complex information is not conveyed properly. In the example of change, the message needs to be clear and in writing. Less formal communications can take place via the phone. The medium and frequency of the message should reflect the importance of the message.
In 1975 Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese originated the Initial Interaction Theory, later named the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, to explain how communication is used to reduce uncertainty between two or more people during their first conversation.2 The foundation of the theory suggests that strangers are primarily concerned with increasing predictability in the communication. If a behavior is predictable, it can forecast future behaviors and can reduce surprises, as quality communication can deepen the personal relationship. When a behavior is predictable, there can be a greater sense of comfort when engaging in a conversation or when working with someone.
The Uncertainty Reduction Theory contains phases. The entry phase is the beginning of the conversation and typically occurs when two or more individuals first meet. During this phase they may discuss socially acceptable topics, such as the weather or sports. In the next phase—the personal phase—interaction starts to take place spontaneously. During the personal phase, which may occur on the first communication or during later interactions, people share personal information.
At work, the quicker managers and coworkers share personal information and enter the personal phase, the quicker the relationships will grow and trust will be established. The first interaction a manager may have with a remote employee could be via the telephone, making it important to understand the Uncertainty Reduction Theory concepts to reduce uncertainty because the parties do not have the advantage of relying on body language and facial expressions. Creating a sense of predictability among employees, managers, and coworkers will accelerate the level of trust and comfort in a relationship.
Communication and Trust
In the 1970s, researchers revealed that interpersonal trust had positive effects on job satisfaction. Several later studies demonstrated the critical role communication plays in developing, building, and maintaining trust. Trust and communication have been shown to improve organizational outcomes such as employee participation and job performance. As you can see, the link between communication and job satisfaction had been identified more than 30 years ago, yet it is an underexplored dynamic, especially when it comes to remote BMETs.
Trust is built over multiple communications and by removing the barriers that are common in relationships. Only through providing honest and open dialog can individuals establish trust. When employees receive high-quality information versus high-quantity information from a supervisor or coworker, the levels of trust and employee satisfaction are rated higher. Conversely, when employees receive information they believe is inaccurate or untimely, the level of trust is diminished. The quality and quantity requirements are different depending on the person delivering the information. In relationships with coworkers and supervisors, quality, not quantity, of information best predicts trust. In contrast, in the relationship with top management, the quantity rather than quality of information is significant and impacts trust. In all cases, trust is closely tied to the perceptions of organizational openness.
To Call or E-mail?
The results of my research illustrate a positive and significant correlation between communication satisfaction, frequency of communication, and job satisfaction. The greater the frequency of communication, the higher the communication satisfaction was rated as well as the job satisfaction. There is a point of diminishing returns where more communication is no longer better. If communication with a manager exceeds an average 1.5 communication events per day, communication satisfaction and job satisfaction start to decline. With that high of a level of communication and interaction, it could be perceived as micromanagement, or perhaps the original messages were never communicated clearly.
To break it down a bit further, we can look at the communication channel that generated the highest scores for communication satisfaction and job satisfaction. When examining the communication satisfaction with coworkers, the medium that produced the highest satisfaction scores was the use of the phone to communicate. Coworkers can act as a support system for remote employees, as well as keep the remote employees connected to the corporate culture. The coworker communication network provides an important avenue in building employee communication satisfaction as well as job satisfaction, and should be encouraged by managers. The openness of phone conversations and the opportunity to share information, personal and professional, makes the phone the ideal for remote coworker interactions.
When examining communication satisfaction with managers and communication satisfaction with regard to performance feedback, e-mail represented the preferred method. Messages and certain information can be complex, and having the written word to refer back to can help bring clarity to a topic. The sender of a written message typically devotes more time to structuring the message to cover all the details when compared to a voicemail or conversation. With respect to performance feedback, e-mail was the preferred method since it provides a written record of the progress and expectations. It is much easier to refer back to an e-mail as opposed to remembering a conversation, and having this reference aids in removing any misunderstandings or interpretation that may result from a brief conversation.
Moving forward, managers first need to understand that employee communication satisfaction relates to job satisfaction. This relationship makes communication satisfaction important for a successful work environment. Recognizing that with remote employees, communication between managers and employees is more difficult than communication with on-site employees, a recommendation for organizational practice includes the creation of a standardized communication plan to develop consistent intervals of communication. Managers can develop and implement plans for systematically engaging in regular communication with remote employees. Those conversations should also include performance feedback. Additionally, set a minimum communication standard, even though the frequency of communication requirement will change, depending on projects and other variables. Something as simple as a standing weekly or biweekly call with remote employees may be all that is needed to increase communication satisfaction and job satisfaction. This standing call will provide an uninterrupted opportunity to discuss open issues.
Coworker communication satisfaction represents another important element of communication satisfaction and job satisfaction. Since the frequency of communication with coworkers impacts coworker communication satisfaction and job satisfaction, managers should encourage and facilitate remote employee discussions, such as conference calls or video conferences, geared toward information sharing or as an open forum. Any activities that allow the remote employee to have a sense of “connectedness” can lead to greater communication and job satisfaction.
Finally, all employees need to understand the relationship between the frequency of communication, communication satisfaction, and job satisfaction. Remote employees in particular will benefit from monitoring their own levels of communication with their manager and coworkers to determine if this communication occurs at an acceptable level. If they do perceive the level of communication as unacceptable, it is a good practice to encourage employees to speak to their managers about the problem.
Past and present research has shown that communication satisfaction with managers affected job satisfaction. Increases in communication frequency increase communication satisfaction and job satisfaction. Monitoring these three related components—the frequency of communication, communication satisfaction, and job satisfaction—can maximize satisfaction and can be seen as the communication triangle.
Randell Orner, PhD, is a 20-year veteran of the biomedical field. For more information, contact .
- Baucum D. Psychology. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 1996.
- West R, Turner L. Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2005.