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Courageous Communications, Part 1


“Precision of communication is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair trigger balances, when a false or misunderstood word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.”

Who said that, and when? Answer below. (No skipping ahead!)

“The ability to get along with others is always an asset, right?” writes Chris Argyris in “Skilled Incompetence” (Harvard Business Review, September 1986). “Wrong! By adeptly avoiding conflict with co-workers, some executives eventually wreak organizational havoc. And it’s their very adeptness that’s the problem.”

It should almost go without saying that communications are at the core of organizations that most effectively translate Strategy-to-Execution. Yet, you don’t have to look far to find organizations (intact work teams, project team, departments, whole organizations) that fall short of effective execution because their communications fall short in one or more ways.

This series of posts will address one common cause of communication problems: fear of conflict. We’ll talk about the need for courageous communications, how to conduct them and the damage an organization can sustain by avoiding them.

“What we have here is a failure to communicate”

In any number of organizations we go into, “Communications” is one of the lowest rated items on their Employee Engagement Surveys or Culture Surveys. As The Captain said in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” And, that failure is literally never about the number of newsletters your organization publishes. So, you can’t solve this by merely sending out more broadcast communications, or tweeting more or cleaning up the company web-site.

While there are a lot of reasons that cause communications gaps, they often boil down to this: “We got stuff we need to talk about that we’re not talking about. And, frankly, if you’re a senior leader in this organization, you often don’t even know we’re not talking about it.”

As a result, “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate” is one of the critical foundation elements of our Strategy-to-Execution (S2X™) framework. (See our full Whitepaper on the topic.)  Leaning into healthy conflict and not avoiding it is critical. As the Argyris quote points out, our underlying “thinking” is often that the ability to avoid conflict is a good thing. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. And, what he wrote in 1986 is at least as true today as it was then.

We have literally 100’s of examples where organizations were avoiding healthy conflict to a debilitating effect. We’ll tell one of them in the next post.

By the way, while we think the need for dramatically better communications, and the ability to deal with conflict, is critical today, that quote at beginning of this post, was from author James Thurber…

…in 1916.

Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.

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