Good Communication — Illusional, Accidental, or Premeditated
Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
Firstly, what is ‘good communication’? Many people have views, but my definition is “the effective and efficient transfer and receipt of information by the right people, at the right time, in the right medium, at the right place and in the right amount”.
The key word though is ‘efficient’. A voluminous report to the right person on time covering everything may be effective but will the recipient be able to synthesize everything and make a decision; or would an email, letter, SMS, ‘phone call, or face-to-face meeting be the more efficient?
Communications Plans, RACI matrices, records of every meeting, comprehensive filing and retrieval systems, and automated distribution mechanisms inevitably ensure that ‘communication’ is recorded and measured effectively; after all one cannot manage what can’t be measured. However, such records are ‘lag’ factors and may satisfy the archivist and historian who analyses what has happened, but are such systems merely giving the illusion that ‘good communication’ has happened. George Bernhard Shaw once said: “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”
Myriads of emails, notes of telephone calls, print outs of WhatsApp, etc. may record communication efforts but the bottom-line is “did the right message (information) get through and was it acted upon correctly”. Many great military blunders have occurred because the communication happened…but it was wrong or misunderstood. The only good things that result are unfortunate lessons learned and at least one great poem glorifying the victims of bad communication; “Some one had blunder’d: Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die, Into the Valley of Death rode the Six Hundred”
“Human communication usually fails except by accident.” is a humorous law by Wiio and is akin to Murphy’s Law that “if communication can fail – it will”. He also surmised that “the more confident one is about the success of communication the more likely it is to fail”. Misinterpretation, ambiguity, and information overload result from inefficient communication and there is inevitably failure, “more information” often means “less efficiency” and does not promote ‘better communication’…
Sifting the relevant information from the irrelevant is sorting the wheat from the chaff. Distilling useful information from a plethora of trivia is efficiency: but why is ‘important’ information masked by non-essential data that contributes little or no value and only adds confusion to the pot.
But how can we manage the illusion that communication has taken place and avoid the possibly accidental nature of good communication? Communication must be conducted so that the right amount of information is available at the right time. An inherent understanding that less-is-more and that communication requires conscious: premeditated effort is essential to create the right attitude.
Making a good decision from effective communication is illusionary and will prove Wiio’s law in that good communication is an accident or just plain luck. Good communication is then dependent on the experience and judgement of the individual who interprets the message. On the other hand, good communication may be achieved by cultivating an attitude of being efficient through personal effort and thinking about what communication is really needed and how; it should be premeditated rather than a random ac
MBA, MSc DIC, BSc; Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist, PMP
Over thirty years’ experience on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro systems, airports, roads, marine works and reclamation, hydropower, tunnels and underground excavations.
Project management; design & construction management; and contract administrative in all project phases from feasibility, planning & design, procurement, implementation, execution and completion on Engineer’s Design and Design & Build schemes.