Assumption is the enemy of true understanding
Communication: one of the single most important components not just in business but in life as well. Without communication there is no empathy, no shared ideas, and no opportunity for development. Without communication we are all just ciphers on a spreadsheet; separated by boxes with no chance of interaction; going nowhere.
If communication is so important, why as a species are we so bad at it? Have we lost the ability to truly communicate or has it been suppressed by the trappings of civilisation? I speak and assume that you will listen, worse still I share and assume that you will understand.
It’s easy to trot out all the old clichés. You know the sort of thing I mean:
- we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak (Epictetus)
- two monologs do not make a dialogue (Jeff Daly)
…but communication isn’t about clichés and sayings; true communication should be about building shared understanding which will lead to further developments. It’s one reason why communication sits at the heart of leadership training and is also one reason why so many corporate initiatives go wrong, broken on the altar of failed communications.
Rolling the dice of fate
Perhaps the worst cliché of all when it comes to communication is I assumed. When we assume understanding, assume a shared knowledge base, assume attitude or ability we are effectively rolling the dice of fate and hoping that it comes up with a six. And in my time working with organisational leaders across the globe far too often I’ve seen cases where it doesn’t, where basic assumptions quite simply lead to project failure.
So I wasn’t really surprised when I saw some of the statistics within the June 2017 Capgemini report entitled The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap.  The report highlights some significant differences between leaders and employees, ones which can only be laid at the door of poor communications and incorrect assumptions. When 85% of leaders believe that their organisation easily collaborates across functions and business units and yet only 41% of employees agree, you know there is something awry with both the communication mix and the internal structure. And when 75% of leaders promote their culture of innovation, experimentation and risk taking, an approach which is only seen by 37% of their employees then there are some major barriers to innovation within the business which it seams leaders are wrongly assuming have been dismantled.
The same is true of other statistics within the report including the headline news that whilst 40% of executives believed their organisation had a digital culture, only 27% of employees agreed. This strikes at the heart of the communication matrix. Whether leadership teams have spent time on building a digital strategy but failed to communicate it appropriately to the employees, or whether new digital solutions have been introduced without adequate explanation, or whether divisions and departments have given an incorrect impression of the efficacy of new technologies doesn’t really matter. The fact is that a disconnect in understanding is leading many organisations along a pathway which is not founded in actuality.
It doesn’t matter what we do in business, whether we are looking to develop a digital strategy, an innovation-led culture or any other approach; if we don’t communicate we don’t succeed. Providing effective communication skills training right across organisations from the newest joiner to the executive team and CEO helps build the shared understanding and appreciation which can act as a springboard to success. It means helping people to explain and to listen, to check understanding and not be afraid to question. It means acknowledging that people are different and receive information in different ways, and it means celebrating those differences while uniting people in a shared goal.
There is only one thing worse than a lack of communication and that is the incorrect belief that communication has taken place. When you look to build an innovative future for your organisation and take your people on an amazing journey be mindful that assumption is the enemy to true understanding!
Originally trained as a product & industrial designer, Cris spent over a decade as a successful entrepreneur & CEO building an award-winning design group. He is now recognised globally as a thought leader on strategic innovation and creating innovative organisations.
Cris is the Founder of Innovation Thought Leadership Website...