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April 1, 2010

Myth #1 -- Are we myth-ing the boat when it comes to communication?

It’s easy to see why there are some common myths around communication.  In today’s world we see politicians, advertisers and the media present sound bytes or pieces of information to convey whatever they want to convey, regardless of its accuracy.  The Internet has opened up the world to be a constant source of information – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whether there’s “new news” or not; no longer are we a world of careful research and fact finding, of accepting information from only trusted sources, of going to a reference source for data. Sadly, it’s quantity, not quality.
Our world now is one of accepting whatever is presented to us, of using Wikipedia as a form of data, and, being in the communications field, I can tell you that data gathered from a website that is populated by individuals sharing their thoughts and opinions and saying whatever they want to be true …is not typically accurate information.  We are a world that is beginning to accept information first and only challenge it later.  
There is a time and place to be skeptical and challenging of ideas, just like there is a time and place to be smart and careful about making assumptions.  The most common myths about communication come from assumptions, believe it or not.  
The downside with assumptions is that you might not realize you even hold a certain assumption, or you might see an assumption as a fact because you’ve never had the opportunity to disprove your assumption.
I have worked with many executives on communication issues that have arisen because of assumptions or myths. When I dispelled the myth and put better practices in place, things got better.
The most common myth that I hear is, “I don’t have time to communicate.”
The leader perceives that there was not enough time to draft a plan or to communicate a plan.  Therefore, more could be done in the time saved from drafting and sharing a plan – no different from the adage, “Clean as you go.”  We all know it’s easier to clean up when cooking as you go – to put things away when you’re finished using them, rather than wait until later or worse, hope it will clean itself up.
Taking the time to communicate, whether up front or at any critical point, will minimize problems, create efficiencies, and perhaps even buy you some time.  As I write in my book, strategic communication can minimize the downsides of change in which business can be stopped, slowed or interrupted, and can maximize the upside of change to accelerate business results.
In a recent change effort for a Fortune 100 client, the first thing we did was to create a plan that would ensure all people and teams involved knew what the outcomes and objectives were, knew who was responsible for what, knew the deadlines and milestones, and even included a section for tracking progress and a section for communicating to everyone on a regular basis.  We outlined what was needed in the beginning and how to keep everyone productive, motivated and ‘in the know’ as the project moved forward.  All good -- all the right things to do.  
However, once the tactical parts of the plan were put into place, like timelines, the plan as it was could be distributed to everyone and work could start.  The part of the plan for communicating through the project had not been completed yet, but the leaders said "no worries, let’s get people started so we can get on with things and then we will finish up the communications part of the plan."   Guess what happened?
The leaders never got around to finishing that part of the plan and, of course, there was never additional communication to the group after the tactical plan went out to everyone.  There was some confusion at first because the plan wasn’t explained to everyone, and the folks who didn’t understand just checked out or were a problem in the overall project, pushing back, and not acting like team members.  As time went on, the folks who had understood what the plan meant and started on it lost excitement around it.  They lost focus.  Confusion occurred and stagnation started.  As conflicts arose, stalemates started.  Focus and effort waned.
So a little communication before to set the tone, and during to ensure understanding, agreement, and focus, can make a huge difference.  The time you spend communicating will keep problems from happening and will usually reward you by creating more time long term.
Who doesn’t have time for that?
Next up:  Another myth my mom believes (and leaders believe, too)...
- David Grossman
Tag(s): Leadership

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