Lack of Communication You Say?

upon a time, I worked with banking executives.  They were all very good, smart people with a wide range of talents, skills and personalities.  However, when faced with a problem that involved people this sentence always seemed to come up.

“It’s a lack of communication”

It was kind of a throwaway remark that, once said, was somehow lost among the myriad of other important issues that required attention.  And yet, quite often, the root of a problem in the organization could be found under the heading of Communication,

Actually, the phrase, lack of communication is a bit faulty because it suggests that communication in organizations doesn’t exist. It does exist.  It just has a nasty habit of being dysfunctional

So what, in the simplest terms is effective communication?  Well, to me,   communication is good when you tell me something, and I understand it in the way you meant it.

It doesn’t sound complicated but we all know that, in reality, it is easier to say than to do.

So what gets in the way?

Well, a lot of things really, but here are three that come to mind for me.

  • Hearing but not listening

Listening is an art that requires time and concentration.  Generally, human beings aren’t that good at it and that’s why so many of our messages get lost along the way.

Listening requires suspending our own egos, opinions and thoughts to make room for someone else’s.  For example if I am nodding and looking at you while you are speaking but thinking about what I’m going to say next, I’m not really listening.  And, if you are doing the same thing, the words serve only to take us both further away from the real message. In essence, it becomes a game of verbal badminton rather than a meaningful exchange of information.

Good listening involves asking questions for clarification and repeating what we hear so that the message we get matches the message being delivered. And, it requires us to give some time over to learning about the perspectives and views of others if we are actually going to get something of value out of it.

  • Ass-U-Me

Oscar Wilde said “Assume and you make an Ass out of U and Me”. There is an element of truth in this.  At the very least, making assumptions about others when you have an important message to convey can certainly get in the way of their getting the meaning you intend.

For instance if you assume people know things, or have experience with things, they do not, and the clarity of your message relies on such knowledge or experience, chances are, they won’t understand what you’re getting at.

When we are busy this can easily happen but taking the time to ask some fundamental questions that will establish where people are, in relation to the message you want to send, will save time in the long run and be less frustrating for all concerned.

  • The Dreaded “Business Speak”

This has got to be one of the biggest reasons that understanding is lost between people in organizations.  For some reason, when we enter the front door of business life, our ability to speak plainly walks out the back door.

Speaking and writing plainly does not suggest lack of intelligence or knowledge on the part of the communicator, quite the opposite.  Someone who is able to get a clear message across with minimal head scratching on the part of the recipient is very clever indeed.

So the next time you are tempted to say something like,

“Going forward, we will dialogue about the deliverables, ensure that we have buy-in from all stakeholders and then circle back to close the loop on the project”,

you might want to reconsider and say something like,

From now on, let’s talk more about what we have to produce; make sure all those affected by what we are doing, agree; and then meet again to talk about how we might finish the project.

Just for fun, here’s a link to MBA Jargon Watch 2.0 – Where business jargon goes to die.

Something to think about:

How well does your organization communicate to its employees?  its clients?

What is working?  What needs to be fixed?  How would you do it differently?


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, motivating & Inspiring

13 responses to “Lack of Communication You Say?

  1. Gwyn,

    This is just a wonderful post. You hit it out of the park with this one. Communication is absolutely essential in a successful organization. I would add nothing, just take my yellow marker and highlight everything.

    A short story…I’ve been an attorney for 34 years. I’m paid to communicate and persuade. I realize now that my clients did not get their money’s worth for a long time.

    Most clients tend to shake their head yes when a lawyer talks to them. I refuse to take a shaking head Yes for an answer. Lawyers don’t listen. They are too busy framing a response. Now that I’m older and slower, it is just a pleasure to listen and hear what your clients are really searching for. Once you listen and understand the question, it’s much easier to answer.

    Great post!!

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    Thanks so much for your kind remarks, Larry.

    Yes, there are some things beneficial about getting older and one of them is that we tend to make more time to be with others in ways that we perhaps felt were irrelevant before.

    Your earlier clients might not have had the benefit of the whole you, but it sounds like your current ones are fortunate to have you in their corner.

  3. Hi there,

    Came across your post by way of Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog.

    Great post! I really like the way you describe effective communication — (it) is good when you tell me something, and I understand it in the way you meant it.

    And that’s the crux of the matter really. Most of the time, we just go through the process of communicating through email, text, IMs, powerpoints, but not realizing that the recipient may not understand it. But we say, we’ve “communicated”, meaning it is one-way. It’s not, it takes two.

    Hence I’d like to add to your list, that there are cultural and language factors that can and do impede effective communications. This is because we work with every expanding virtual teams. We’re often communicating with people where English is/could very well be a 3rd or 4th language, not just 2nd language. Hence simplicity is important but nuance that could enhance communications would be lost, not so easy sometimes for native English speakers and writers.

    Anyways, thanks for posting and enjoy your blog very much.


  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Hi Paimeiitguy,

    Thanks so much for adding to the list of things that get in the way of good communication… and it is an important addition too.
    When it comes to being effective in our communications with diverse groups of people, I am reminded of this quote:

    “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Most people listen, not with the intent to understand, but with the intent to reply”- Steven R. Covey

    Thanks for coming by! 🙂

  5. Thank you for including the ‘pull’ part of communication in the mix. Most fixes for bad communication focus on the ‘push’ when more time spent on worrying about hearing and miss-hearing would probably fix things a lot more effectively.

    Great post.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for coming by and for your comments. Reference to ‘pull’ and ‘push’ remind me of the important of achieving balance in communication, and a lot of other things for that matter. 🙂

  6. Well said: “communication is good when you tell me something, and I understand it in the way you meant it.”

    I find your articulation of these three key points to be very helpful.

    Speaking plain English instead of Business speak is one thing I find I have to work really hard at continually as a consultant. But it is not just in my own learning to use plain language, but in the way others will take my language and turn it into jargon or their own shorthand. Two things happen when they do that. First, they speak words that make it seem like they have mastered concepts they haven’t even worked at yet. Second the people around them that I have not worked with me yet think they drank some sort of koolaide so it sets me up against a wall of resistance.

    BTW – I have found twitter to be one of the best training grounds for developing my ability to speak cleanly, clearly and with impact. Still have a lot to learn, but I at least feel like I am making steady progress!

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  8. Gwyn Teatro

    Susan, as I read your remarks I couldn’t help but smile because I know what you mean about doing your best to speak plainly only to have the people receiving your message actually translate it using the very business jargon that you work so hard to avoid.

    I do not always speak as plainly as I would like either especially when I am anxious or unsure of myself. I think using jargon does help to give the impression that we understand more than we actually do. And so, perhaps it becomes even more important to not only establish a discipline around speaking plainly ourselves but also ask others to adopt it too..sort of like an operating principle for talking to each other.

    Thanks for your usual thoughtful comments. They are always appreciated. 🙂

  9. Gwyn, you offer some great reminders and priceless advice on improving our communication effectiveness. I cringed a bit when I read the section on business jargon, which I recognize as all too easy to throw around.

    I enjoyed this post and your post on “delegation” so much that I featured them in my “Fresh Voices” piece today.

    Thanks for the great work and helpful guidance! -Art

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