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Do you often wonder why you get information late and when you do, are you surprised by it? Or during meetings, you seem to be the only person talking? What is happening to cause these communication breakdowns?

Recently I was working with an executive who was frustrated that the information flow in his organization was often slow and/or incomplete. As we explored potential reasons, it became evident to me that the environment was one of distrust and fear. Historically, when an employee had bad news to be delivered, the consequences for the person delivering the message were less than desirable. In addition, the leader went into a micro-managing mode as a defense mechanism to eliminate any future bad news. So what's the message to the employee? Bad news leads to bad consequences.

In addition when team members were asked for their suggestions and opinions, the leadership often ignored or dismissed them. No wonder communications were ineffective.

The article , "Ruthlessly Realistic: How CEO's Must Overcome Denial", in HBS Working Knowledge March 29, 2010, points to CEO leading to a breakdown in communications as well. Middle managers are generally the leaders who will initially identify a problem. Yet when the bad news finally makes it up to the CEO who chooses not to acknowledge the reality because it doesn't fit with his "reality", guess who looses her job? It is the middle manager who dared to speak the truth.

If you want to increase the flow of communication here are some tips:

  1. If in fact you have an unsafe environment for communications, you need to be transparent with your team and share with them your desire to change the environment and ask them for to help you with the change process. How do you find out if they believe it to be unsafe? You can measure the level of communications safety by way of a 360 degree feedback tool or interview process using an outside resource to insure anonymity. This process will give you a benchmark of communications safety which you can then re-measure after a significant time period to see how you have progressed.
  2. When in meetings where it is important to get many ideas and opinions out on the table, don't dismiss an individual's comments. A great technique to use is the "yes, and" technique. This is opposite to "yes, but", which people use when they don't like a person's idea or opinion. Commit to this technique and see how the volume of ideas increases. Also, others will notice and start to adopt the technique as well.
  3. There are always individuals on a team that you can count on to speak up and voice their opinions and then there are the extreme introverts that need to be invited to share their thoughts. Make sure that all voices are heard during a meeting. If you have someone who may be uncomfortable sharing their ideas, let them know in advance that you will be asking for their opinion during the meeting so they aren't caught off guard.

So the next time you are having a meeting, listen and observe. Are people not sharing their ideas or revealing problems in a timely manner because of a behavior that you are displaying or not displaying? Don't be a victim of denial and take the steps to change the dynamics of communications within your team or organization.


Larry Hart

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