Nobody Told Me That! How To Fix Common Communication Issues ☎️

Sep 02, 2022 2:01 pm

Happy Friday!

A quick note before I get into today's topic—at the bottom, I linked to some articles on my site. The outline one is what I put together based on an email I wrote a few weeks ago, so check it out and let me know what you think!

Today I want to write about communication. In my experience, communication is where most of the problems originate for organizations. In particular, there are two insidious issues that tend to room together that lead to all kinds of issues.

Communication Channels Are One-Way

Despite all the talk of teams, open communication, and collaboration, most organizations optimize for one-way communication. In particular, communication from the highest level of the organization down to the lowest. Even then, we find that this communication channel is full of selective filtering.

In fact, when I work with leaders, I often ask them to conduct an experiment where they say something and then go find out what actually got communicated several levels down. This is pretty eye-opening.

Nevertheless, groups are aware that they need to communicate top-down decisions far more than they need to bring up emerging issues from the bottom-up.

And that is the issue.

When a team at the bottom of the organization sees an issue or a new opportunity emerge, the instinct is to keep things close to the level where it emerges. So many leaders who would love to know something or need to know something often hear about things well after they could have helped.

Who Should Know?

The other nasty little problem is that people don't know which things to bring up even if they were comfortable doing so.

Take, for example, a team that comes up with a new idea for a project. Their direct manager tells them to get started. After a few months, that manager's boss and boss's boss hear about it and are both excited and frustrated. The higher-ups knew about other similar initiatives that could have accelerated the project instead of naively duplicating it. Yet the people on the bottom thought it wasn't worth involving them.

There is also the case that most people overestimate their knowledge of a topic or issue. Similar to the above story, the group thought their idea was original instead of a duplicate. Take a security issue created by a team who thought they knew what they were doing, or a manager purchasing a tool that grants another company patent control (Yes, this is a thing).

So people struggle to know who they should bring things up with. The more people they bring in, the slower things tend to go, but failing to do so can be equally disastrous. So what can we do?

Set Heuristics With One Up-Level

My advice is to intentionally talk through this with the person directly above you and encourage them to do the same. The meat of this conversation is around answering two questions:

  1. What do you want to hear/know about and things you don't?
  2. How should we best communicate them to you?

The first question always has surprising answers as you will find not only their interest in topics but their risk tolerance and avoidance mechanisms. I've had clients who specifically do not want to know about security threats as it increases liability, and they should be skipped.

The second question gets to the meat of realizing that most groups don't have a mechanism to signal the need for an issue. E-Mail is usually terrible aside from a record, and chat programs may not be right either. That leaves in-person meetings, which can be tricky to get time for and tend to be one-way. So laying out explicitly how you'll signal to them helps them apply a better filter for when you do need to bring things up.

I make time to do this explicitly with my clients, so they know how to categorize my updates, informational questions, and requests for intervention. Each has a different method and signal for them to clue into based on an explicit agreement.

So there you go, a quick look at some common communication issues and a potential remedy. Good luck!

Here's my weekly update for September 2nd, 2022...

🗒️ High-Performing Team Series - Why Fuss over Teams?


I can’t remember when there wasn’t some emphasis on participating in a team—starting back in college when our assignments moved from individual to team assignments and continuing into every single job I’ve had since.

Even when moving into consulting, most consulting agencies prefer to send consultants out as a team.

Click here to read more

🗒️ Outlines for Article Series or a Book


As I promised in my newsletter (Which you should be reading) I offered thoughts around two books or at least an article series on two topics.

What comes next are the core questions I want to answer in each one.

Click here to read more


Ryan Latta