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Poor Communication: Cause or Effect?

Communication breakdown is blamed for a multitude of sins in commerce, industry, government and even sporting circles, but the symptoms should never be confused with the disease

by Helen Wilkie

As you can imagine, 'poor communication' is a phrase that attracts my attention.

I am constantly on the lookout for examples to illustrate my belief that finding and correcting instances of poor communication can save companies a great deal of money, which is why I call my enterprise The Hidden Profit Center.

Recently, however, I have noticed a growing tendency to blame poor communication for an amazingly wide range of problems and disasters. By way of example, here are just a few snippets I've culled from world media.

Senate hearing on Abu Ghraib

Senate hearings cast light on systemic problems within the U.S. military structure that may have contributed to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Testimony from top U.S. officials and military commanders suggests a lack of defined leadership, poor communication within the chain of command and confusion over rules for interrogating prisoners. (Huh??)
-National Public Radio

Faculty problems at community college

Angered by the reassignment of a popular leader and citing poor communication with staff, some Everett Community College faculty members are asking President Charlie Earl to resign.

The unrest stems from Earl's announcement May 11 that Stu Barger, vice president of instruction, would be reassigned as senior assistant to the president, working on projects across academic programs. (Politics rears its ugly head?)
- Times Snohomish County bureau

Nurses leaving the profession

The consultant spent time in Volusia and Flagler counties interviewing nurses about all aspects of their duties.

The conclusions were surprising in that salary was not the No. 1 complaint. Inadequate staffing, lack of appreciation for their services and poor communication with administration and medical staff were the main complaints. (Lack of respect?)
-Daytona Beach News Journal

Commission of Inquiry on 9/11

There has been entirely too much finger-pointing within the last week.

The commission found a number of flaws in New York City's disaster preparedness: inadequate radio systems; poor communication between firefighters and between firefighters and police; an insufficient 911 emergency telephone system; breakdowns in communication between the emergency telephone operators and the police and firefighters on the ground. All those problems should be addressed. (Turf defending?)
-North County Times (San Diego)

Japanese-speaking baseball player's performance

But on Wednesday, Howe blamed at least part of Matsui's problems on poor communication, which is understandable but also correctable.

'The play on Guzman, I know he just didn't realize that Guzman ran that well. That was the biggest problem there,' Howe said. 'He just took his time and when he looked up, he said, 'Whoa, I've got to hurry up and get rid of it,' and that's what made him throw wide.' (Maybe just a bad throw?)
-Major League Baseball website

So decide for yourself!

Is poor communication really the culprit in these stories, or has some underlying problem caused the communication breakdown? I invite you to consider them all and decide for yourself. Now look at your own workplace environment in the same way.

Let's say someone on your team has something to contribute to a discussion, but sits silently because you are known to react badly when someone appears to contradict you. Poor communication is the resultóbut the cause is lack of trust based on prior experience.

If professionals don't take the trouble to pass necessary information along to support staff, poor communication is the result - but the cause might well be lack of respect or consideration.

Today, many workplaces contain employees of varying ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

Miscommunication is almost inevitable, but if it happens a lot you might want to examine whether the underlying cause is a lack of understanding or even intolerance. Poor communication may be the effect rather than the cause, and diversity training could be indicated.

In summary, when you hear poor communication cited as the cause of a problem, probe a little deeper before deciding how to respond.

Copyright, Helen Wilkie

Helen Wilkie is a professional speaker and author, specializing in communication that improves the bottom line. She can be reached at 416-966-5023 or hwilkie@mhwcom.com. Visit her websites at http://www.mhwcom.com and http://www.HiddenProfitCenter.com.

Some Related Articles:

Seven Worst Communication Blunders of 2008
How 'Valuable' Are Your Values?
Anorexia, Family Tensions and the Role of Communication
The Myth of the Communication Problem
How Invisible Communication Barriers Kill Productivity
Three Basic Rules for Management Communication


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