‘Lack of communication’ or ‘a communication problem’, is perhaps number one declared culprit in most of our troubled organizational life. It has become a natural target for most of our ills, even if very often, nobody explains what exactly the ‘communication problem’ means.
It reminds me of the case where a school teacher ‘diagnoses’ the problem of a kid who cannot get things in on time, gets distracted easily, provides messy homework and is well behind in assignments as ‘lacking planning skills’. Or the kid with tantrums, disturbing and irrational fears of rejection, and restlessness that interferes with his social life, diagnosed by the clinical psychologist as having ‘emotional instability’. Sure!
In both cases, a problem situation has been captured by a meaningless label. The label does not say anything new that the problem situation cannot express in itself. In one case, it assumes that ‘planning skills’ is something that is magically and physically stored somewhere, and one does or does not have. In the second case, it similarly provides a false impression that there is an ‘entity’ responsible for the situation, and, perhaps a cure waiting to be deployed.
In general, our natural tendency to wrap up a situation with a label and feel good about it, provides an initial sense of comfort, but not necessarily a solution. There are dozens of possibilities behind ‘the communication problem’, from the true lack of information shared, to the completely different expectations between emitter and receptor on what to do with that information, and, possibly, differences in working styles that project themselves as ‘communication problems’ (or even a personal problem) but they are not. If I am processing one thing at a time, and you can process five things in parallel, I may be slow for you (and you may be sloppy and superficial for me) and not respond immediately to you. You may see this as a communication issue, but it’s not.
Probably only 1 in 10 of our Team Alignment projects, where ‘a communication problem’ is on the table, end up with a true ‘communication’ diagnosis and intervention.
In behavioural terms, the main trick is clear: avoid the label and describe what happens; then resist labelling again, keep going on the behavioural side. If you do this, you may find yourself in a completely different territory where ‘communication’ has lost its initial apparent heavy weight.
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