Why Don’t You Communicate?
You could be a leader, manager, team member or colleague. How do you know if you are communicating adequately?
We are not talking about the effectiveness of communication from a skill perspective but the adequacy of communicating from a relationship perspective in terms of a habit and a sensitivity – the act of trusting enough to share and disclose, keeping people informed, of making the other person feel cared for, feel included, respected and valued.
The true judge of whether we are communicating adequate or not is not us but the other person. How well and adequately we communicate in an interpersonal relationship is always “in the eyes of the beholder”.
Be it employee engagement surveys and culture surveys about organisations (and therefore leadership) or 360 surveys about individuals or nay other sensing exercise, inadequate communication almost always figures as an area that needs attention.
When critical communication does not happen in a relationship in a given situation, the typical responses from the other person are something like this:
“You did not tell me”, “You could have told me”
“I did not know”, “How am I supposed to know”
“You could have taken me into confidence”, “I did not feel included”
“I don’t know what’s going on in your mind”, “Why don’t you say something?”
“Why don’t you open up and share?”
Have you been asked these questions? Have you asked someone these questions?
Well, if the expectations are so strong and the relationship is so important, why don’t people communicate?
At the heart of this “blind spot” or “failure” if I should use a strong word is the lack of “perspective taking”. The inability to see things from the point of view of the other person. The inability to see how the world might look from that other person’s eyes. This is also called lack of “cognitive empathy”. It is the inability to comprehend how it feels to be left guessing, left wondering, to know that something is going on but you are not sharing, that you are lost in your bubble. The other can feel it and is perhaps sponging your emotional state but remain helpless.
Individuals are unable to take the perspective of the other because they are so caught up in their own world. So, irrespective of what is going on, what is holding people back?
There could be many things but three come to my mind.
Fear is a big reason for people not to communicate and hold back. I am afraid that I will be judged, will be mistaken, the relationship will turn sour, that you cannot deal with what I have to say, that you are too fragile.
Of course, the fear of trusting others with my views and opinions and feelings is another huge one.
In an increasingly transparent world, leaders are expected to transcend this fear and share what is going on. To deal with that vulnerability is important today.
One of the biggest reasons for performance reviews not delivering on its promise is the fear of being candid and open.
Beliefs and Assumptions
Leaders, managers and team members might be making many assumptions or holding several unhelpful beliefs that prevent them from sharing.
You will not understand
You will understand
You know what is going on and you can wait
I will look weak and sound like I want help
There is no use
The last time I took the effort and shared you did not understand so why try
It is better to sulk and get attention than share and get dismissed
Often times when teams are working together on projects and there is need for coordination and cooperation, one team members might be working on something but may fail to let others know where he or she stands and what the issues if any are.
One of the reasons for town halls and all hands meeting to be seen as a waste of time is the fact that it lacks candour.
Sometimes, people have intentions when they do not communicate.
I better get this done and then report.
I am still working on it, so let me complete it
Do not want to disturb you.
I must have something tangible to share.
Many enabling functions in organisations like HR and Finance are often accused of not communicating enough. They may have great intentions, grand plans they wish to unfold but no one knows what is cooking.
More often than not, relationships weaken than strengthen as a result of under communication.
Under communication can make things look worse than they actually are.
It is also a failed opportunity to ask for and receive help
It can lead to managers being misperceived as not acting on things.
In an Organisational context, it can weaken trust and allow misinformation to spread.
Sadly, instead of taking a small simple step like walking across and talking, we might end up inviting an OD consultant to come in and do an intervention to improve collaboration!