Our faith in communication is enormous. Why? Perhaps because we know well the problems associated with the lack of communication. However, we expect miracles from communication. After all, we hear the mantra: ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’.
We know about the liabilities of the lack of communication but we don’t worry too much about the other extreme, the over-communication. In my consulting work I see more problems coming from over-communicating than from the lack of it. If anything, everybody is communicating something, sometimes very loud: new corporate initiatives, new leadership principles, results of the Employee Engagement survey. All usually done for very good reasons. Each ‘owner’ of an initiative has been told: ‘make sure you communicate this’. And so they do.
Channels are often saturated and messages compete for airtime. The result could well be a preventative switch off from people, a sort of mental parapet, a shield against the bombardment of messages, good or bad, relevant or irrelevant.
I have often stumbled across this channel saturation by accident, when suggesting a small behavioural survey in a selected sample. It is not unusual to sense some apprehension, even when my client knows the limited scope of the survey and the low level noise I am proposing. Why? I hear: ‘We’ve had five surveys in the last two months! People can’t stomach another one, even a very friendly one!’
‘Communicate, communicate, communicate’ does not make more sense than the hypothetical ‘manage, manage, manage’ or ‘lead, lead, lead’.
Communication de-cluttering is needed in many organizations as a way to re-sensitise and re-educate the brains of all of us, in order to be able to spot the signals and filter the noise.
The alternative to a healthy communication ceasefire may be a nasty War for Attention.