Why everybody struggles and it’s no one’s fault
we’ve all inherited a paradigm in which…
…people’s expectations of their own and each other’s communication abilities are wrong?
We know there are plenty of folk – both internal communication specialists and non-specialists – who produce loads of excellent internal communications. Yet huge numbers of people (perhaps a majority) seem to struggle with at least some aspects of internal communication. And this has likely been going on for as long as organisations have existed. So why hasn’t it been sorted?
Perhaps some people are so ashamed of their inabilities that they won’t admit to them? Or maybe, because so many people are struggling, the bar is set so low that plenty of folk might be forgiven for not recognising how much better they could be. Maybe it’s a bit of both. And it can create all manner of difficulties – which can get amplified the more senior those people become.
But it is a sensitive subject, which may sometimes leave IC Specialists (and others) between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they probably want to remove needless hassle from their working lives. And they may also feel a sense of duty to the employees on the receiving end of their work. But on the other, they don’t want to upset the people they have to deal with day-to-day. So maybe it’ll help if we look at this dispassionately.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell University published the results of their study into incompetence. Their findings showed that when there are no empirical standards against which people can evaluate their ability:
- Unskilled people often tend to overestimate their ability and often fail to recognise genuine skills in others. (This is often referred to as Illusory Superiority.)
- Skilled people often underestimate their abilities, believing instead that, because the activity comes easily to them, ‘surely anyone can do this’.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, then, if a majority of managers want to think they’re good at internal communication – an activity they do pretty much every day. But against what standards are they evaluating their ability when they tell themselves they’re good at it? And are they the right standards?
For those who aren’t as good at internal communication as they need to be there’s a strong case for saying it really isn’t their fault. Indeed, it’s no one’s fault. How could it be? As we see it, there are three possible routes to internal communication expertise. So let’s look at how viable they would have been up to now.
In 2003, the project to map the human genome was completed. Since then there’s been a stack of research into the genome itself. But it was only recently that scientists worked out the function of a gene which, for the non-geneticists, they’ve dubbed the ‘Internal Business Communication Gene’.
It’s unique to the human genome, and remains dormant throughout childhood and adolescence. However, when someone leaves school or university, and goes out to work, this gene will kick in at that point. And because it’s part of human DNA, it enables anyone to instinctively ‘know’ exactly how to identify what needs communicating, to whom, when, and how, in any business situation they encounter – without anyone ever having to teach them! Brilliant huh?
Yeah, there’s just one small problem. It Doesn’t Exist. We all know it doesn’t exist. However, every single organisation in the world, it seems, behaves as if it does exist – because they do expect people to just know how to do it without being taught. Or do they? What about all those communication courses?
Traditional business communication courses (writing, presentation skills, interpersonal skills etc.) tend to focus on how to execute communications, not on how to identify what, if anything, needs communicating, to whom, in the first place (with the possible exception of some report writing courses).
So if there’s no internal communication gene, and relatively little by way of internal communication training that’ll teach your typical Joe how to identify what needs communicating to whom, when and how, the alternatives seem to be that people:
- throw their hands up in despair, and resort to…
- …beating themselves up, or…
- …adopting a kind of belligerent apathy (which, with some managers, may occasionally have them verbally beating other people up)
- try improving their internal communication practices by means of trial and error.
For pretty much everyone, then, trial and error seems to be the best anyone can realistically hope for: the best case scenario. And it has three main drawbacks:
- It can take ages for people to become as good as their organisation needs them to be
- Even if they take ages, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever become good enough (many an unnecessary email is sent by people who’ve been in business for 10, 20 or even 30 years plus)
- Trial and error has two components. The first is ‘Trial’, and the second is… …well, self-evident.
So here’s the inconvenient truth of your organisation’s best case scenario. Relying on trial and error means that, to some extent at least, it is pretty much guaranteed to have ‘error’ hard-wired into its internal communication practices. Not by design, but by default.
Error is no one’s fault
And it’s vital to recognise not only that this hard-wired error is almost certainly there every day, but that, currently, it really is no one’s fault. We can’t blame people (no matter how high up your organisation’s hierarchy they may be) for not knowing how to do something:
- they’ve never been taught to do properly
- for which they have no genetic predisposition.
There’s no need for anyone to feel guilty, embarrassed, ashamed or defensive. This is something we’ve simply inherited from our forebears. And it’s what makes DFVP practices for Internal Communication so valuable – both emotionally for you and your clients, and commercially for your organisation.
And we’re currently offering free workshops which will help you understand more about making this work for your organisation. We’ll set it up to run at a time to suit you and anyone you want to invite. It will:
- spell out more of the business benefits (emotional, financial and reputational)
- walk you through the mechanics of moving your IC Specialists into the Sweet Spot, and
- show you how to make the business case for introducing this new paradigm.