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Effective Communication at Work: Two Scenarios

Scenario 1: A Sticky Situation

Kevin Mathews had just finished going over his notes from this morning’s supervisory conference when the door to his office opened and Steve Burrow entered.

“Got a minute?”  Steve asked.

“What’s up?”  replied Kevin.

“It’s about that meeting we attended today.  I wanted your reactions to it.  I think the old man has got a good point or two.”

“Do you mean about getting our troops in on decisions more?”

“Yeah, and also that bit about us supervisors living in ivory towers—not being in touch with our people and their points of view.”

“Steve, I was just reviewing my notes on that meeting and trying to decide how to do it.  You know, before Tarson took over as general manager, it was taboo to involve workers in management decisions.  I have worked here six years and never consulted anyone when making decisions.”

“I’m new at it too.  I hoped you could give me some pointers.  I think the people in my department will be afraid to help me ’cause I’ve never asked them for the time of day.  On second thought, maybe we should forget about it.”

“I’d like to give it a try.  Tarson gave us a list of problems that seem ideal for mutual consideration with our people.  Did you take notes on the way to get going on them?”

“As I recall, the chairperson does all the work.  You’ve got to define the problem, do the research, pick out a room, and lead the meeting to a solution.  It seems like it is more work to get workers in on a problem that it is to solve it yourself.”

“Look, Steve, Tarson wants us to do it, right?  Well, I think what I’m going to do is hold the meeting and lead them to the solution I think is best.  You know, make up your mind first, then give the workers all the evidence you used to make the decision.  They’ll have to come out with the same decision you did.  They will think they contributed, you will have done what Tarson wants, and the decision will be yours anyway.  It all hinges on selling your point of view to the workers.”

“Kevin, just suppose that they come up with a different decision.  What do we do then?”

  1. How might workers react, when asked for the first time to share decision-making authority? 5 marks

  2. What problems may be experienced by supervisors who are asked to share their decision-making authority for the first time with workers? (10 marks) (2 marks each for discussion of the problems)

  3. Could it be possible that the workers would come up with a different decision?  If so, how would you cope with it? 10 marks

 “Uh-oh,” thought Ken Schaefer.  “Here comes that blowhard from personnel, Samson.  If he corners me I’ll lose half an hour.”

Scenario 2: Missed Opportunities

“Hi, Ken.  Mind if I join you?”  said Samson as he pulled up a chair.

Ken barely acknowledged Samson’s presence and went on eating his lunch and reading the company newspaper.

“I’m glad I caught you, Ken.  I was going to drop by your office today, but we can take care of matters now.  I’m worried about that opening you’ve got.  It’s a job that has been vacant about thirty days and...”

Ken cut Samson off with a wave of his hand.  “Look, I’m really thinking about a lot of problems now, and I have a meeting in about an hour.  We can talk shop in your office or mine.  Just let me get through the paper and mull over a few things now, will you?”

“Well, it’s important that we discuss the opening because I think we have a lead on a good prospect.  Seems she works for our competition and has been unhappy with her situation.  Word has it that, for about $500 more than we paid he predecessor, she might jump on board.  Now, I was hoping to bring her in on Friday morning.  That will give us about two days to get things set up.  Is that OK—I mean can you make time to interview her on Friday sometime?”

“What’s that, Sam?”  asked Ken.  “Sorry, I was involved with this story on last night’s game.”  Ken kept reading.

“I want to bring the new prospect in on Friday.  Is Friday good for you?”

“Sure, Friday will be fine.  I’ll call you, and we can discuss the opening.  Gosh, look at the time!  I’ve got to go.  I need a few minutes to get ready for my meeting.”

As Ken gathered his things together and stood up to leave, Samson rose with him.

“Now she might not be able to come in on Friday, but I won’t know for certain until tomorrow,” said Samson.

On his way back to his office, Ken began to collect his thoughts.  “That Samson really ticks me off.  He’s like a bad penny—keeps popping up.  Try to enjoy your lunch and that jerk shows up.  Ever since we had that run-in over Suzie’s dismissal, I’ve hated his guts. . . .What was it he was rambling on about?  Something about Friday.  Oh, well, knowing Samson, he’ll check with me before then.  If not, I’ll drop by his office and see what’s bothering him.”

  1. Which of the barriers to effective listening apply to Ken?  Which apply to Samson? 10 marks (5 marks for discussion on Ken and 5 for Samson)
  2. What communication barriers apply to this case? 10 marks (5 marks each for discussion of the barriers)
  3. How is the grapevine illustrated in this case? 5 marks

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