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Chapter 6: Avoiding the Communication ProblemIt has become quite common in recent years to blame performance problems and organizational conflicts on poor communication.
The face-to-face medium is the predominant medium of communication between manager and employee; therefore, it is of critical importance, Managers harm more than help themselves in their efforts to deal with employees because of poor communication.
I remember a story in the New York Times, following a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The story explained that when the score was Boston 5, Yankees 3 in the ninth inning, and the Yankees were at bat with two out and two men on base, a new relief pitcher was sent in. The coach instructed him to pitch tough. The first pitch resulted in a home run. Afterward the coach was quoted by the New York Times: "If that's pitching tough, I don't know what pitching soft would be like." Obviously there was a communication problem.
When training managers I usually ask: "What kind of problems, obstacles, or frustrations arise when you are trying to get employees to do something they should be doing or to stop doing something they shouldn't be doing?" Their frequent response is "they don't listen, they don't respond, they don't understand." Managers blame their employees for failure of the communication process. A more accurate observation would be that the manager is failing, not the employee. One of the major reasons managers are not as effective as they could be (for the purpose of influencing others) is because they are operating with the wrong definition of communication.
For example, when Iask groups of managers: "What is communication?" the usual first response is "the transmission of information." After some discussion the definition is amended to "the transmission of information between two or more parties so that it is understood." Unfortunately, this, too, is incorrect, and precisely why managers fail in their efforts.
I first learned about communication in the third grade. The teacher first described the elements of communication as similar to electrical communication. She said there must be a sender, a receiver, and a transmission. For example, in telegraphic communication between two cities, if you transmit "dot dot dash dot" from San Francisco, New York City will receive "dot dot dash dot," unless someone chops down the poles. If New York sends a signal back to San Francisco, for example, "dot dash," San Francisco will know that New York has received the message.
The teacher described how this was similar to what happens when people talk to each other. One person (the sender), through vibrations of the vocal cords, makes vibrations in the air (the transmission), and these vibrations travel through the air to the other person's ear (receiver). These vibrations activate the mechanism in the inner ear that transmits impulses through nerve synapses to the brain. Because we have learned to interpret the meaning of these impulses, we are able to understand words and, therefore, to communicate. The teacher then gave a rule as a basic guide to communication, which you are probably familiar with: "Say what you mean and mean what you say."
As a result I went through the world communicating like the wife of a once-famous television personality. On one of his television programs he explained how his wife communicated in a foreign country when she could not speak their language and they could not speak English. He said she believed that if she spoke to the natives clearly, slowly, and loud enough in English, they would understand what she was talking about, even though they did not speak English. This is not as strange as it seems; this is bow many of us communicate with others, even those who speak English. Did you ever tell someone to do something and that person did not do it? Wasn't your reaction to repeat it louder? You might even have said, "Did you hear what I said?" You assumed the communication failed because your dot dot dash dot was not loud enough.
Understanding Thought TransmissionThe problem is not a hearing problem. The problem is that there is no similarity between electrical or electronic communication and the communication between people. In the first place, the mind thinks at least six times faster than we can speak, and because the mind thinks so much faster, its primary function is a reactive function. Of course, the mind receives the information transmitted, but the information is received so fast that the mind reacts even before the message is completed. You can demonstrate this reactive principle yourself by saying to a number of people, "Say what comes to mind when I say something to you." Then say a single word to each of them, such as black, up, or hard. The responses you will most likely get will be white, down, and soft, but no one will respond with the word you said. As a matter of fact, you can say any word you choose and they will never repeat what you said. If you said to them dot dot dash dot their response might be "you are crazy."
If communication really was information transmission, arid you said white they would say white; if you said black they would say black, Because the mind is primarily a reactive instrument it does not think of what you said, it thinks of something else because of what you said. The things you say act as triggers to create other thoughts as a reaction.
This means that if you have an idea in your head that you want to communicate to someone else, the worst thing you can do is to put that idea into the most precise and correct words you can think of and speak them. Because as soon as you say these words, the listener will hear them, but think something else. Because the mind is primarily a reactive instrument, successful communication is a function of thought transmission, rather than information transmission. Therefore, if you have an idea you wish to transmit to someone else, you must say or do something that will cause that idea to appear in the other's head as a reaction to what you said or did.
For example, let's assume you and I are face to face, and my aim is to impress you with my honesty. I might begin to talk about my early childhood, my religious upbringing, and all the times I performed in an honest and trustworthy manner. As I continued relating my resistance to temptation and unrewarded honest dealings with others you might begin to wonder, "What is this guy trying to get out of me?" Voila! Thought transmission (unintended).
Let's take another example. Let's say I wanted you to be frightened, and I said to you, "Be frightened! Be frightened! Be frightened!" Obviously you will not be frightened, so I will improve my diction and say the same words even louder. Is it likely that you are going to be frightened? More likely you will be wondering what kind of a nut I am, and why I am carrying on this way. If I recognize that communication is thought transmission, however, and I want to transmit the thought fright to your mind, I might wait until you are relaxed, sneak up behind you, and yell as loud as I can "Boo!"; or I may approach you with a glass of water and stumble theatrically in front of you to make believe I am going to spill water all over you. In both instances you would probably jump out of your chair.
In neither instance did I say the word fright, but I successfully communicated the thought of fright to you. I did something in front of the thought called fright so it appeared in your head. I used thought transmission. By the same token, if I wanted the thought of my honesty to appear in your head I would be more successful if I did something in front of you that you could perceive as honest. For example, I could plant money in your path and before you get there I could come along and pick it up and ask you if it was yours. If you said no, I might suggest you turn it in to lost and found, or ask you to take care of it because someone may show up having lost it. You may think I'm soft in the head, but you will also think I am honest....