Help me find examples for my exam.
January 30, 2007 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of positive and negative communication experiences in the workplace...

I'm writing an exam for an introductory class on organizational communication. I would like to present students with questions that give scenarios or examples of communication problems, issues, or successes in the workplace, and then ask them to apply the concepts we have discussed in class (instead of just having them define a bunch of terms). There are a lot of examples in our textbook, but I'd like to bring fresh material to the exam so that they're forced to think instead of just memorize. I'm looking for a wide range of experiences, for example, problems adjusting to the culture of an organization, examples of really beneficial or really negative uses of communication technologies, problems communicating with superiors or with other departments, etc. Basically things that stand out in your experience as having either a negative or positive effect on your workplace and/or job. No identifying information is needed, but general descriptors might help (i.e. manager at international software company, etc.).
posted by DiscourseMarker to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give a specific example? Not sure what you are looking for.

(Though I would point out that watching "The Office" on DVD is like a master's class in bad organizational communication.)
posted by GaelFC at 1:03 PM on January 30, 2007

"This absolutely has to be done in 3 days. So how long is it going to take YOU to do it?".
posted by Riemann at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2007

have you looked through the AskMe history? it seems like every 10th question here is some kind of office human-relations question, which invariably boil down to communication. most of the questions are of the "how do i deal with ___" variety, which is usually prompted by some kind of negative thing, but a lot of the answers given are a positive variation.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:11 PM on January 30, 2007

Well actually Riemann's answer is very interesting, i.e., dumb, unhelpful, etc. things supervisors have said to you. I'd also be interested in effective/ineffective ways that rules and policies have been communicated (an example from the book is a cocktail waitress being given a thick employee handbook in the middle of a busy shift and being asked to sign a form saying she'd read and understood the rules). Also good would be examples of how rumors spread over the grapevine. I hope this provides some clarity.

I thought I'd post this request here b/c this is the first time I've taught this particular class, and the test bank that came with the book sucks.

We've watched clips from The Office and Office Space in class :)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:20 PM on January 30, 2007

I'm also teaching an intro org comm class right now. One thing that we do is have the students bring in articles from newspapers and we discuss what it would be like to be a part of that org.

We tried showing clips from Office Space and the Office, but the students didn't really connect with it. It seems that those things are much funnier after having been in an office environment.
posted by k8t at 1:21 PM on January 30, 2007

I did do some searching before posting, and saw a few interesting examples, but I had trouble figuring out the right keywords to search for. I *don't* need examples of relationship problems (i.e. how do I talk to my boyfriend about...) or technical problems (i.e. how do I get my router to communicate with my...).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:25 PM on January 30, 2007

discourse: best way to search is to use the tag function: i.e. type this into your web browser:

which gets you askme's tagged with work + boss, which are usually about communication problems.


and so on, which are usually about interpersonal sorts of things.

all of these come from the "tags this tag was used with" column in the link i posted earlier. you can substitute other combinations of things like office, employment, etc.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:55 PM on January 30, 2007

When people confuse seeking reaffirmation with wanting somebody's opinion.
"This report is fine, right?" != "What do you think of this report?"
This really bugs me, and I have caught myself sometimes doing it. Does this have a name BTW?
posted by MrMulan at 1:59 PM on January 30, 2007

I told one of my coworkers not to be such a jerk.
He didn't care for that.
Some might say this is an example of how not to handle a coworker personality clash.
In my defense, he really is a jerk.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2007

One thing I've learned from past experiences is to always be open and have timely communication.

I used to have a manager who would wait until performance reviews at the end of the year to talk about minor issues that surfaced early in the year. Had they been brought to my attention early on, they would have been fixed. Instead, they were allowed to be issues all year long and affect my end-of-year review. (Note: his boss knew the truth so at least I was covered!).

As a manager now, I communicate frequently with all my employees. I can casually bring up constructive criticism in a timely manner because we have an open and frequent line of communication. Issues are addressed immediately, and people have plenty of chances to make things right. After all, if one is unaware of a problem, it can't be corrected. The end is result is fewer negative reviews (in fact, I've never given any) because my group can identify and quickly address any issues as they arise.

As a bonus, the open communication allows people to comfortably come to me with any issues, proposals, and recommendations they feel are important. It fosters a more open environment of progress and a great sense of teamwork knowing that there are no surprises.

As another example, my current manager used to be a coworker who got promoted. He is immensely qualified and respected by my whole team from our experiences having him as a peer. His transition to his new role has been much more seamless and easy than some other managers here, mainly because he is familiar with the job and the department, and has the support of the team. Earning respect is the single hardest thing to do as a leader, but once you have it, it provides an enormous possibility for innovation, cooperation, and productivity because people will trust your leadership and better accept changes and challenges that emerge.
posted by galimatias at 4:18 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wow, there are so many of these. One example is the underground information exchange in an office -- how there is official information given through official channels and then there is unofficial information that is exchanged "underground." So, some people know X, some people don't, some people think that the policy is Y, even though it's really Z.

Related to this -- or maybe not -- when underling talks to big supervisor (sometimes with big supervisor's encouragement) about problem with mid-level supervisor. Big supervisor gives advice, or attempts to assist, but in so doing essentially "tells" on the underlying to the mid-level person. "Well, [underling] said that you were really fill-in-worst-possible-spin-on-what-underling-said." Making whatever the small situation is into the worst possible mess.

Or, here's another one -- (especially) new people don't know which of the latest proclamations to take to heart and which ones to file in the just-an-idea-the-boss-had-one-day-and-then-forgot-about pile.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:46 PM on January 30, 2007

How about a boss who is inarticulate, can't spell, frequently mispronounces and makes up words and generally writes the way he talks (in ridiculous cliches)? In addition, he treats me (his office manager) the way he treats his wife--he barks at me, makes demands and generally doesn't make eye contact when telling me what to do. I have absolutely no respect for this individual and feel that personality flaws can't be hidden in an office setting. This guy is so transparent that its scary. I can't wait to get out of there each day.
posted by rglass at 6:44 PM on January 30, 2007

How about the To:Everyone emails complaining about some problem, such as "Please do not use too much toilet paper - it is causing the toilets to overflow!" In a big company, I get several of these emails every day. Even if I'm not the culprit, the reprimanding tone of these emails gets me down. The same goes for the "Please don't leave the coffee pot empty" or "Don't take other peoples' printouts" signs on the walls.

A humorous cartoon or a joke would be much better communication.
posted by mediaddict at 10:30 PM on January 30, 2007
posted by quadog at 11:41 PM on January 30, 2007

During my years as a video store clerk, I once worked with a young woman - we'll call her "Jane" - who had an odd communication tick.

Someone would say, "Jane, we're pulling twenty Judge Dredd's for the bin." [That is, taking twenty copies of the Stallone infested turkey Judge Dredd off the rental shelf, repackaging them, and placing them on the "Previously Viewed Movies" table for sale].

Jane, standing four feet away, facing the other direction, wouldn't turn around, respond, or even blink. The speaker would just stand there, unsure what to do. Had Jane not heard? Was she simply acting pissy? Was she distracted by thoughts of Sylvester Stallone taking his shirt off? No one knew.

Then, when you followed up with something like "Jane? Did you hear me?" She'd get quite irritated. "YES! I heard you, okay?!"

No one knew quite how to explain to her that when one is spoken to, one must acknowledge the communication in some manner.
posted by Clay201 at 12:47 AM on January 31, 2007

How about unclear expectations? I came in without a job description, and the two bosses assumed the other secretary and I shared a brain, so whenever they needed something done, they would give it to whomever of us was nearest. So frustrating. Unclear job description-- grrr.

Also, they didn't have clearly defined vacation or sick days. I've taken so many sick days I should be fired, but I don't know if I'm over their limit or not.

Also, seconding the shotgun approach to dealing with one-on-one issues. Sally didn't replace the paper in the copier? Make sure to write a memo to every living thing in the vicinity so that it's covered. Sheesh.

Also, not being treated fairly. My anniversary (and raise) is due Jan 17. Sally's is due March 3. Well, they're close enough so we'll just do both in mid February. Thanks a lot-- i miss a month of raise, she gets an extra few weeks. Great.
posted by orangemiles at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2007

One more negative communication-- the word "ethnics". In south Florida most of our labor workers are Latino. Old Boss calls them "the ethnics" because the news channel uses the word (ethnic culture) and it must be ok. Even if I tell him it's not ok to complain about "the ethnics". I seriously got laughed at by him.

Good communication was a morning email to all employees with news of the day (i was a teacher). No emails with news would go out except for the morning email unless it was an emergency. One email to check. Beautiful.

Speaking of being a teacher, one only needs to walk into the teacher's lounge to be filled in on all the gossip and grapevine fodder. Whether you're trying to make copies and just get out of there or if you want to hear it.
posted by orangemiles at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2007

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