What We’ve Got Here Is Failure To Communicate

Posted: May 27, 2016 in Quintessential Leader Basics
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Failure to communicate is a quintessential leader challenge and problemIn life and in leadership, even among quintessential leaders, many of the upsets, mishaps, implosions, and irreparable fissures that we experience are begun and ended by communication. 

Communication is perhaps the one thing we all struggle – and I do hope that we, at least as quintessential leaders, do struggle, because this means thinking before we speak or write, choosing our words carefully before we speak or write them to avoid misunderstanding and to exactly convey our exact meaning – mightily with at every turn in this thing called life.

Therefore, it is very common that what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate (a well-known quote from Paul Newman’s movie Cool Hand Luke).

The lack of precision in communication is the root cause of failures to communicate. It manifests itself in many ways. Let’s see what some of those ways look like.

One way that the lack of precision in communication manifests itself is vagueness in communication.

We live in a world where vagueness in communication is the norm. What vagueness in communication gives us are plausible deniability and a lot of wiggle room to go in whatever direction the winds blow.

What we lose with vagueness in communication is clarity, understanding, and direction. You can literally sense that you are standing on a shifting surface that you can’t see, you don’t grasp, and you can never get a clear handle on when communication is vague.

While I personally find vague communication very frustrating and very aggravating, I refuse to be paralyzed by it, which is what is the most common effect of vague communication on the majority of people.

While I am searching for an avenue to move away from the source of vague communication, I will question it at every turn. I will rebut it at every turn. I will challenge it at every turn. 

My intent is not to be an agitator (there are plenty of people who use communication to simply stir the pot and keep it stirred up – I am most definitely not one of those). Instead, my intent is to understand, to have clarity, and to know exactly what I’m dealing with so that I can make an informed, logical, and rational decision about how to proceed.

Another way that lack of precision in communication presents itself is in communication out of or devoid of context.

I don’t always know that this is intentional, but I do know that it happens a lot, and in some cases, it is a deliberate attempt to frame words – and people – in a certain light or a certain way to make the words or the people appear differently than what they really are.

We the peeps are extraordinarily adept at cherry-picking in our communication. The temptation is incredibly strong to lift something said or written out of its context – or pretend there’s no context at all – to make ourselves look better (and someone else look awful, which is the intent behind this), to encourage (and, sometimes, try to force) an idea, opinion, or agenda that we support onto others, or to obscure or change the original meaning of the communication (in its context).

Again, this is something that drives me crazy for two reasons: I see right through it and I see a lot of people fall for it so easily. I personally just can’t wrap my head around that, but I see it often enough to know that’s our reality in this area of imprecision in communication.

A third way that lack of precision in communication manifests itself is in the projection of our own ideas, opinions, biases, and prejudices onto someone else’s communication.

This area of imprecision in communication is more commonly known as spin, which began as a public relations “tool,” but is now ubiquitously employed by most of the human race.

Spin is simply propaganda, achieved by a creative presentation of the facts using disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

What this looks like is someone taking something said or written and overlaying it with their own ideas, opinions, biases, and prejudices until the original communication (and its meaning) is completely altered or obliterated.

This imprecision in communication is mostly subtle, coming at us from angles, cloaked in soft, attractive, and alluring appeal and reinforced by constant repetition, until we accept it as having always been true, being true, and will always be true (even though the actual truth, if there was any to begin with, has been completely eroded).

The final way we’ll discuss of how lack of precision in communication presents itself is in putting words into someone else’s mouth.

This form of imprecision in communication can be in spoken or written form, but it purports to quote another person (“he said,” “she said,” “they said,” etc.) while it uses words that were never actually spoken or written.

I had this happen to me personally recently. Someone I’m working with came to me with a “quote” that a group of people I’d been talking with attributed to me. The “quote” was their only issue in my presentation to them.

The only problem was that the “quote” never happened (maybe only in an alternate universe I didn’t have access to, but certainly not in the room with them and me on that day) and it was so far out of bounds that I was compelled to immediately go back and give the actual words they said and I said (in context) to the person who reported it to me.

Unfortunately, my latest experience with this is not an anomaly. It happens all the time, in our personal conversations, in our organizational conversations, and in our social conversations. And these “quotes,” which never happened, are accepted as legitimate and true.

Words matter. Communication must be precise. It is the foundation of all our other relationships in life. It is solely in our hands to make that foundation strong, trustworthy, and dependable or to make that foundation weak, untrustworthy, and shaky.

You are responsible for your communication and the foundation you build, just as I am responsible for my communication and the foundation I build. No one else does the building and no one else bears the responsibility.

When what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate, it is because we lack precision in our communication.

Each of us, as quintessential leaders, must continually look at our own routine forms of communication to see where we stand.

Are we routinely vague in our communication?

Do we routinely use communication that is out of or devoid of context?

Do we routinely project our own ideas, opinions, biases, and prejudices onto someone else’s communication?

Do we routinely put words into someone else’s mouth?

How are we doing?





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s