Communication: Be Responsible for the Wake You Create

leadership and communicationThe single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.– George Bernard Shaw

In today’s dizzying pace of information, we barely take in yesterday’s news and events when we are deluged with all that is happening today. What gets lost in the noise is actual communication.

For the record, communication is not a one-sided conversation. It’s not a tweet, it’s not an email, it’s not a post, it’s not a text, it’s not even a voicemail. Communication is the understanding of the receiving party of whatever was communicated by the sender. The actual definition is “the imparting or exchanging of information or news” or “a means of connection between people or places in particular.” This is why fake news and the alternative facts universe we live in is so dangerous.

It’s great that we now have multiple ways to stay in touch with people but many studies have shown that we are actually less connected now than before because we have lost our ability to communicate. Communication is not simply venting your opinion. How many of us have cut off Facebook or LinkedIn ties with those spouting different points-of-view than ours?

The piece that “opinionating” leaves out unless you are an opinion column writer for a news outlet, is the effect of that tweet, text or email on the other party. It is incumbent on all of us to “own” the effects of our communication and the “wake” it has. Years ago, I was in a meeting of Key Executives and the facilitator was becoming more and more agitated with one of the participants. The participant was clearly heading down a path that was not going to end well but the purpose of the meeting was for all of us to help him choose a different route. In the process, the facilitator literally lost it and filleted this guy five ways to Sunday to the point that I actually think he started crying. The other 12 of us in the room were so stunned by the invective spewed from the facilitator that none of us did a thing. (To this day, I am ashamed I did not do or say something other than to suggest we take a break.)

The facilitator then tried to give a lame apology that went something like this “I’m sorry I was so direct but he needed to hear it from someone he could trust.” Not much of an apology as it was a justification for very bad behavior. The “wake” of that rant was huge. The poor guy quit the group, his job, and actually had a nervous breakdown. 3 of us also quit the group and it eventually imploded. The facilitator just said we were “weak.”

Because we live in the digital world, one-way communication is not going away. But what we can do as leaders is model good communication by being responsible for the wake of our words. Own what we say and write, think about how it will land on the audience, and follow-up if you are concerned. Remember, open conversations, in-person, respecting the other person’s point-of-view is what good leaders do.