Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
Communications Breakdown

Sunday, December 29, 2002  

Nothing is more difficult to fix than communication breakdowns. They are probably the #1 cause of more irritation, frustration and aggravation in the entire organization. I believe those breakdowns can be narrowed down some basic root causes in the workplace:

1. Personality differences.
2. Impatience.
3. E-mail.

Personality differences speak for themselves. Our perspective informs our reading and listening comprehension. If you and the person you're communicating with aren't having a meeting of the minds, there's no basis for understanding. The most common occurrence I see at work is with humor. It is amazing how easy it is to piss someone off when you think you're being funny and the other person, for whatever reason, is in no mood. I have two team members who cannot communicate at all with each other in a humorous fashion because they don't understand when the other is being funny. I personally believe in cases like that it's best to take a page from the FAA rules: don't try to be funny unless the tower is. Until those basic misunderstandings can be worked through, don't push the issue. There are a number of books and programs in the field of organizational development to help work through personality conflicts and help people understand how they act & react with others.

Impatience is another problem. When people aren't listening, they aren't going to communicate well. The easiest way to work through this is either trying to put them at ease (if the issue needs to be discussed now) or to wait for a more opportune time (if it doesn't). Pretty self-evident.

E-mail is a major offender. I have a simple rule -- if it takes more than three e-mails back and forth to settle an issue, pick up the phone. Too often I see problems that should have been cleared up by a phone call or meeting that lingered in e-mail. When those result in me having to meet with another department head to clear up an issue between two of our staff members, the miscommunication went on far too long.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 12/29/2002 11:04:00 PM

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