The Communication Challenge 

What is the single most important factor that can make or doom a human endeavor? If you pose this question to ten management experts, you would perhaps get eleven answers. Passion … skills … capital … team … so on and so forth. But, one key factor that is quite often forgotten is – the communication. 

In the day and age of the abundance of communication tools and devices, it is ironic that we have lost our ability to communicate effectively. I was born in India at a time when only few of our neighbors possessed a landline. Exchange of snail mails to and from an International location used to take a month! Now we have “instantaneous” global communication through emails, texting, video chats, microblogs, cell phones. Why then are we increasingly lost during our conversations? Why do our interactions appear to move in circles most of the times? Why do we get into a cacophony of incoherent messages and misunderstandings more often now than ever? Here are a few reasons that come to my mind …

The curse of abundance: We, the humans, value scarcity. Our resource wastage increases exponentially with the availability. That is true about communication, too! Not convinced? Just look at your work email inbox. 

Business users send and receive on average 121 emails a day in 2014, and this is expected to grow to 140 emails a day by 2018. – Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018

I regularly get 100+ work emails every day … some of them have embedded email-chains that the sender expects me to read through! If spend only 3 minutes on each of these emails to read, understand, and respond, I will spend 5 hours of my workday just doing that! And, does this deluge of messages improve our communication with colleagues and partners? … hell, no!!! 

When communication cycles were longer and more difficult, we paid more attention to the “messaging” part of it. We followed some generally accepted structures and protocols. Caught in the obsession of quick turnaround cycles of communication, we have lost site of the “messaging” itself! We rarely spend time to step into the recipient’s shoes to understand what he or she would make out of our message. That often results in a sparring of senseless words and killing of the very essence of the communication! 

Lack of underlying trust: We, as a society, have become more and more untrusting of each other. Handshake agreements are rare, if not extinct. As our trust in each other declines, the need to over-communicate increases. Communication can be used as a tool to play blame games, if it comes to that! On the other hand, our untrusting predisposition makes us poor recipients of the communication. All the over-communication falls on deaf ears! 

Unclear channels: Indeed, social and organizational hierarchies are useful to channel our messaging appropriately. However, in the age of matrix organization and dotted reporting lines, people are often confused who the right recipient of the message should be. The increasing tendency to cc’ing every “Tom, Dick, and Harry” in the organization indicates the same confusion. Every organization needs to step back once in a while and define the data flow in the organization to reduce these communication cobwebs!

Perhaps, we are still in the adolescence stage of the new-age instantaneous communication and are in process of figuring out the best practices to use these new tools. After all, it has been only two decades since we began using these electronic messaging tools!

So, let us work towards shaping new standards and protocols that would revive messaging and calm down the cacophony of over-communication! Here are a few things that I make an effort to follow:

  1. Speak before you write: it’s far easier to communicate orally and availability of an indirect feedback such as facial gestures or voice inflections helps in a more wholesome communication.
  2. Build trust before communicating: a simple thing as explaining the context of why you are communicating helps the recipient be more receptive. Don’t just rattle out your messsge without creating a receptive audience!
  3. Emphasize the common cause: make sure that you do share a common cause with the recipient … don’t just include people in the loop without a clear common cause. And then, emphasize that cause when you communicate. 
  4. Write full sentences and use proper greetings and salutations: no, it’s not just a Victorian tradition. It is also a mark of respect! If you don’t show respect towards the recipient of your message, why should he or she show respect to your messsge? I had a colleague who would write emails without bothering to begin with my name or even capitalizing any words! Really? You are so busy that you can’t write a proper sentence? Well, I am busy too, to read it!

Happy communicating!!!

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