February 2014

4 ways to inadvertently sabotage communication

  • Adrian Reed 
  • 5 min read

Blue person in silhouette with red question markIn my last blog post, I wrote about some of the challenges associated with communicating in organisations.  In organisations of all sizes –from mid-sized to multinational—ensuring the right people have access to the right information at the right time is somewhat of a challenge.  In fact, it’s so easy for teams and organisations fall into patterns that are almost guaranteed to cause communication difficulties, frustration and information overload.  It’s almost like the communication channels have been sabotaged…


In fact, sometimes, our colleagues and stakeholders may inadvertently sabotage communication.  I’m sure they don’t do this deliberately, but there are some common pitfalls that can seriously hurt the ability for teams to communicate effectively.   Four pitfalls are listed below. These certainly aren’t the only pitfalls, and I’m sure they won’t be a surprise to you.  Yet they are four of the most important, and they occur time and time again.   If you see these warning signs, it might be time to take some action…


Common pitfalls:

Mutiny and Chaos: Avoid the Communication Clash

Years ago, when I was studying part time for my degree, I remember covering a module on telecommunication systems.  My degree focussed on business, but I elected to do some technology related courses too in order to broaden my horizons, and I found the telecommunication module particularly interesting.
One model which always sticks with me was a generic model of communication that was taught.  When you’re communicating electronically you need a:


  • Sender  (e.g. someone speaking over a phone line)
  • Receiver (e.g. someone listening at the remote end of a phone line)
  • Message (e.g. the message being transmitted over the wire)
  • Medium (e.g. the wire or satellite carrying the message)


Whilst this was taught from a technical viewpoint, I remember thinking at the time that this model of communication could be applied in many different circumstances – including a business context.  Communication is a perennial issue in many organisational situations.


Communication Clash!

I’m sure we’ve all worked in organisations, projects and programmes where the communication just doesn’t seem to work.  The problem is rarely an absence of communication—modern corporate organisations communicate all the time. There’s the Intranet.  E-mail. Instant Messanger. Document Repositorys. Blogs.  Sometimes people even take the time to speak face to face over a coffee or a beer.  Yet still we don’t seem to get access to what we need.


Ironically, most organisations respond to “communication issues” by simply communicating more.  They create more messages that are sent by a wider variety of senders in a seemingly unlimited plethora of media.  But this is of little use if nobody is listening!


It struck me that in order to diagnose a communication problem, it’s important to know whether the sender is sending the right information (on the right channels), and whether they are monitoring to see if it’s actually being consumed.  It’s also crucial to consider whether the recipient is listening and whether they are ready to collaborate.


The “BCM”: A back-of-a-napkin communication model

Putting these two dimensions on a graph creates a useful model:

Do your customers trust you?

Angry GirlI recently read an intriguing article on the Studio@Gawker site, which described how two remarkably different organisations solved two very different  business problems through gaining a better understanding of their customers.  They achieved this by using analytic and CRM solutions to help anticipate their customers’ needs—but most importantly of all by considering and addressing the thorny issue of trust amongst their customer base.


It struck me when reading this article that trust is something that we don’t talk about enough in business and business analysis circles, yet it is key for retaining customers. Foster a high trust culture with customers and you’re more likely to hold on to them— and this is true irrespective of whether you’re a small, midsize or multinational enterprise.     Yet in many organisations, the issue of trust might not be considered at all when developing new products, services, systems or processes.  This can be a recipe for disappointment. Without considering the impact on customer trust, changes may be made that have an adverse effect to existing customers, leading to damaged or destroyed relationships.


An example: Trust and relationships

Trust is key to relationships.  I’m willing to guess that if you drive a car, you take your car to a mechanic or garage that you trust when you need a repair or service.  In fact, people often stay with a mechanic or garage that they trust for years – even if they know they can get a cheaper deal elsewhere.    Trust helps build customer loyalty, which is extremely beneficial as it’s often stated that signing up a new customer costs on average 4-6 times more than keeping an existing one.  Clearly, this will vary by organisation and industry, but this highlights the importance of retaining customers and continuing to meet or exceed their needs and expectations.


It’s also generally accepted that trust takes time to build, but can be destroyed in a second.  I remember dealing with a telecommunication company as a consumer where I’d received excellent service for years.  They made a small billing error – and when I contacted them it was so  traumatic to put right that I eventually left.  This inconsistency in experience shook my trust.  They had provided excellent service for years, but one inconsistency in service meant that I left.   If they’d made the correction I’d asked for in a more straightforward manner, I’d have stayed.


What does this mean for business and business analysis

We often talk about the “customer experience” in our businesses along with the importance of representing the customer in our projects and product design activities – and there is no doubt this is an exceptionally important factor.  It’s crucial that the customer gets their product or service at the right quality and that they have a valuable experience.  But how often do we talk about the consistency of service?  Perhaps not enough; particularly given this consistency can affect trust.