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Communication – the missing key to effective management in forestry


July 27, 2021
By Christian Fournier
Photo: Annex Business Media

Communication has become an important factor to master as an effective supervisor/manager in the forest industry. We communicate with individuals, small or large groups depending on the function at hand. It can occur with fellow co-workers, contractors, clients, students, lead hands, front line supervisors, department managers, general managers, vice presidents, CEOs, board members and so on. Often overlooked and misunderstood as an essential component, employees, supervisors and managers regularly don’t understand its importance. It is not only what we intend to communicate; it is which method we choose to make that communication. So, what is communication? Actually, it is quite simple. It is conveying a message. Therefore, as supervisors/managers, we must always keep in mind what is the message we want to portrait.

Communication can come in all kinds of forms:

  • Verbal communication
  • Non-verbal
  • Written
  • Actions
  • Inactions

Christian Fournier, health and safety superintendent, Twin Rivers Paper Company. 

Verbal communication is the one most people understand as communication, but they don’t realize how we say those words has a profound meaning as well. Knowing your audience is a vital part of your communication. You have to consider your message recipient’s education, age (generation), industry, geography, state of mind, language (mother tongue or second language), ethnic origin, background, etc.… It’s not only choosing the right words in your message, but also the emotion that you put behind them. In my experience, if you can be genuine in delivering your message, you will have greater success. But if you are sarcastic or act like you are talking over your audience, not only will your message not reach the folks you’re trying to communicate with, but you will also end up upsetting them and consequently affecting future communication attempts.

Non-verbal communication is basically speaking without words by indicating what message your body portrays. Body posture is fundamental in proving good non-verbal communication. The way you provide eye contact, folding arms, rubbing your face, touching your hair, leaning against a wall, standing straight, sitting on a corner of a desk, sitting on a chair, standing to close or too far from the message recipients, your approach, are some of the examples in regards in providing the appropriate posture. Being nervous, tired, impatient, frustrated, intimidated, happy, empathic, optimistic are just a few of the emotions that can also affect the approach of your message.

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Written communication is not as easy as you think when it comes to depict your message. Again, we are not just talking about the words (spelling) themselves but the grammar, composition, etiquette and tone of the message itself. Is it an email, a memo, a presentation, a proposal, a text message that you are writing? This also makes a big difference. Who is your message recipient? Again, it could go from your spouse to the president of the company. How many times have you written an email without really checking it over, and then you realized that it didn’t sound like what you meant to say? It happens more often than you think. That’s why you should always double check an email before sending or even save it as a draft and wait to read it the next day – especially if it is an important email or you are getting emotional in writing it. Once it’s sent, you can’t take it back.

Most supervisors, managers and senior managers comprehend verbal, non-verbal and written communications and their effects in communicating. One of the bigger challenges I had throughout my career is to convince supervisors, managers and senior managers on the message they send to their staff when it comes to their actions or inactions and the message (communication) it sends.

Action refers to the message you are sending by your actions. What do I mean? I will give you a couple examples. If I go through the mill wearing all my personal protective equipment (PPE) that I am required to wear, I’m communicating that wearing your PPE is important. Another example is a manager only giving a verbal reprimand a week after an incident where an employee swung a piece of wood in front of a supervisor in an attempt to intimidate him or her. This conveys to the rest of the employees that there are minor consequences to them if they try to intimidate supervisors.

Inaction is basically the same, but it is the message you are sending by your inactions. If a manager chooses not to participate to a safety meeting or ignores a safety procedure, what type of message is that sending to employees? It suggests that safety meetings are not significant and safety procedures can be ignored.

As you can see, your actions and inactions do indeed serve as a form of communication not only for your staff, but also for your fellow co-workers, contractors and everyone else that works for or visits your organization.

Remember that in all communications, knowing your audience and what message you want to convey to that audience are the two decisive components in any effective communication.

Christian Fournier is the health and safety superintendent for Twin Rivers Paper Company in New Brunswick. He serves as an executive on the board of directors of the CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineering) New Brunswick chapter. Christian was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Service to the Safety Profession for the CSSE New Brunswick chapter.


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