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Why Is Communication So Important?

February 24, 2010

In the old world, it seemed that most people could get by just by doing their appointed job. Indeed, in many organizations, those who pushed at the boundaries of their appointed task by proposing improvements in areas outside their immediate job role were seen as ‘trouble-makers’.

Today, it seems that working hard and efficiently is no longer enough. The big question is “What value have you added?” In other words, we are expected to contribute to the wider development of business process, practice or offerings through our ideas and insights, through our readiness ‘to go the extra mile’.

In order to do this, we have to spend time understanding the perspectives and motivators of the different stakeholders involved in our process area. In the case of internal executives or users, that most likely means responding to their needs. In the case of other internal functions or external providers, it may mean managing their behaviors to ensure they do not prevent or damage desired outcomes. This cannot be achieved without effective communication – both listening and sharing information.

In itself, this does not sound especially difficult to achieve. But the irony of our information age is that it has made communication more important, yet at the same time made it more challenging. There are four major factors that I observe many professionals struggling to manage:

  • The volume of information is often overwhelming. It is increasingly hard to determine which communications really matter, so it becomes tempting to ignore all of them, or to enter a state of inertia and just do things as we always did them.
  • The methods of communication are alien and hard to manage. Most of today’s senior professionals were raised in an era of physical communication. The extent of those communications and the rules under which they were conducted were widely understood. The networked world has disrupted those patterns and we do not really know how to operate. For example, who has been on a training program on virtual negotiation?
  • The audiences with which we communicate are increasingly diverse. This means we are often unfamiliar with their values or perspectives, their cultural practices or norms. In such environments, the opportunities for miscommunication or misunderstanding are manifest.
  • Finally, we face the challenge of time. Today’s pressures on doing everything faster often conflict with the need for more inclusive (or carefully considered) communications and behavior. Communication and time are often seen as directly opposed to each other – and hence we must continually compromise.  This pressure for immediate answers also threatens good judgment – we are often forced to respond faster than we would like and left later to regret how we replied.

In combination, these factors mean that the opportunities for misunderstanding have perhaps become greater than ever. We are in a world where there is far more communication, but of much lower quality. Broadcasting to a wide audience is not the same as communicating – and often leaves us struggling to recover from the perceptions or reactions that were created. Similarly, we struggle to know which groups or networks to join, which sources will provide new ideas and opportunities to learn.  

For a community involved in establishing and performing against business commitments, the ability to coordinate across varied perspectives and reconcile differences is fundamental to our success. Our readiness to share learning and experiences and to be open to the knowledge and ideas of others is also fundamental to our personal and organizational progress. These are tasks we simply cannot perform without good communication skills. That is why we must re-learn how to undertake effective communications in today’s networked world. It is not optional; it is a dependency for answering that fundamental question: “What value have you added?”

  1. Hello Tim,
    I enjoyed your article and I couldn’t agree with you more. More and more are we being copied on mediocre e-mail communications and people are more and more unaware of the value (or lack of value) they are generating by communicating inappropriately. In this new era of communicating and managing, people have to be taught that communication consists of a message, how the message is phrased or formulated, how it is delivered (in person, over the phone, via e-mail, via a blog) and that the impact of the message is based on the combination of all these factors. If our generation thinks that there is a growing issue that needs to be addressed, watch the teenagers on the bus or the subway text-message to their friends on a constant basis – Just imagine what their management style & communication style may be like if we don’t stay on top of this potential communication dilemma….

    • Thanks Andy. Of course, us bloggers have to be alert to the fact that we are often adding to the problem of overload!

  2. Tim, very interesting article. As an ‘old-school’ communicator, I have recently been climbing the learning curve of social networking and, particularly, to evaluate for myself its role in effective business communications.

    Attempting to distinguish ‘white noise’ hype from the reality of exchanging information of genuine value, I have been struck by the ‘socialist’ nature of networking in an online community. By that, I mean everyone has an equal voice and organisational hierarchies are (apparently) flattened instantaneously.

    This is mostly a good thing I believe, but as organisational boundaries disappear due to the network effect then so too does the culture and style that regulates and informs participants about how best to get things done within their frame(s) of reference. Overload is a problem, of course, but it is countered by immediate access to vast amounts of information and opinion. However, doesn’t this require participants to me even more discriminating about what they read and react to?

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