The Fog of Communication

When you assume things, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

I learned that saying at a summer camp when I was barely a teenager. It has stuck with me ever since. Nowhere is its truth more apparent than with the art and practice of communication.

  • Making assumptions about what should or shouldn’t be communicated
  • Making assumptions about what someone should or shouldn’t already know
  • Making assumptions about how something should be communicated

At its worst, ineffective communications can lead to the proverbial “fog of war”. A military term referring to uncertainty in war and in situational awareness. If a commander’s intent is not communicated clearly, consistently and relentlessly, dire consequences will result for those charged with carrying out that intent.

What’s true for war is also true for business. In business, communications can be manipulated by spin doctors and social media to create a fog of communication where it’s hard to distinguish fact from fancy. Where problems and solutions pass each other in the night.

Max De Pree believed that good communication…

  1. Educates and liberates
  2. Is simple and clear

Building on that, 3 practices come to mind to lift the fog of communication in the business world.

  1. Keep it simple. So simple that our grandmothers can understand what we’re trying to say. In my case, if my wife can understand what I’m trying to say, it’s a positive sign.
  2. Over-communicate. Don’t assume or take anything for granted. As Max de Pree states, “… it is better to err on the side of sharing too much information than risk leaving someone in the dark”. Kinda like the US Marine Corps’ promise of “no man left behind”. Communicate so that everyone gets it.
  3. Look for visible signs of invisible understanding. You can’t tell whether someone understands what was communicated. What you can look for are changes in behaviour or actions taken as a result of that understanding. Do those behaviours or actions demonstrate and align with the expected understanding?

“There may be no single thing more important in our efforts to achieve meaningful work and fulfilling relationships than to learn and practice the art of communication”

Max de Pree

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