By Chris Chittenden
“Today, communication itself is the problem. We have become the world's first over-communicated society. Each year we send more and receive less.”
… Al Ries, “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind”
As we have said before in our newsletters, communication continues to be one of the major bugbears for people in organisational life. Despite the rapid growth in technology such that people can have access to more information than ever before, this continues to be the case. Surely something is amiss here.
One possible way of addressing this communication conundrum lies in understanding what people mean when they talk about “communication”. The traditional view of communication is that it involves getting the message across by providing the necessary information. In this traditional interpretation, better communication means the delivery of more information. Clearly this view is limited as people have more information than most know what to do with these days, yet do not feel that communication is working well. If anything many people feel they have too much information.
It may be better to see the issue of communication in terms of the way an individual feels about the way they are treated. In other words, issues of communication are really issues of relationship. In the ontological interpretation of communication, the emphasis is on listening and not speaking. In this interpretation, listening is an active process of making sense of what the listener observed based on their concerns – what is important to them. Listening is therefore seen as a continuous process of interpretation. Hence to communicate more effectively, it is vital to understand the concerns of the potential listener. From this perspective, just passing information is not enough for everyone. Rather for many, it is about feeling connected, having their views considered and feeling ok about what is going on.
Communication in circumstances where major changes are afoot can be a good illustration of communicating to people’s concerns. No doubt people want to hear about the process of the change initiative but more often than not the question at the forefront of people’s minds is “How will this affect me?” In such circumstances, many people will be anxious about the change and feel that they have little control over their situation. In these circumstances, people are looking for what they can do to bring some sense of control back into their personal situation. They may also want to feel that they are a valued member of the group and that someone is listening and taking heed to their concerns. This does not necessarily involve a lot of information but simple messages about what they can do to create more control over their future.
© 2007 Chris Chittenden