Communication Breakdown

July 22, 2013

I recently came across an interesting piece on the Harvard Business Review that essentially deals with our own discomfort with the issue of race and how this discomfort can actually impede open and honest discourse in the workplace. If you have time, grab a friend and go through the short exercise here. I did this with a coworker and it ultimately lead to an interesting discussion about race, preconceptions and how we create unnecessary barricades in communication. In a broader sense, this is about how we fear being perceived.

This basic study got me thinking about the way we impede productivity by overcomplicating the way in which we communicate internally. I worked for an employer who believed that only 30% of e-mail sent was actually read and understood by the recipient, a percentage that goes down from there when you add multiple recipients. He believed that as soon as soon as confusion reared its head in such correspondence, a phone needed to be picked up or someone needed to walk over to a desk for clarification. I have also seen the way the same message could be interpreted differently by individuals in an organization based on their own filters and motivations. I found this study interesting, especially given the current heightened discourse on the extent to which race factors into our thinking. The lesson in this study I think, and I would be very interested in your opinion, is that often our own fear of touching on a perceived taboo hinders our ability to bring all of the pertinent elements into the conversation. The kids who did this game that were under nine years old performed better than adults. They don’t carry the baggage into this game that we do.

This writer is always intrigued by technology that facilitates communication, makes it faster and easier to talk, share and move initiatives forward. However, is still on human beings to ensure that the quality and substance of this communication does justice to the manner in which it is delivered and acted upon.