There are fewer and fewer roles that can be fulfilled in isolation in our increasingly complicated company environments. Our interconnectedness is unmistakable. Our ability to communicate has become more important as our environments have become more uncertain and unmanageable, and our markets, partners, and suppliers have become more global. Poor communication has costs for our connected network, which extend far beyond individual performance.
To execute our work properly, we must be able to concentrate on our responsibilities and connections. To do so, we must employ the conversational tool. When I work with cultures and teams to improve this skill, I believe that avoidance is the greatest barrier to effective communication. Here are a few examples of how we lower our collective intelligence by avoiding it.
We don’t want to cause anyone any harm: We believe it is more compassionate not to say something to someone who may distress them or make their lives more difficult. This, however, has far-reaching repercussions. We avoid giving people feedback because we know it will affect their performance and possibly their future. People may find it simpler to talk behind someone’s back, which can turn into gossip or cruelty.
We don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons: We humans are driven by a need to be accepted. It can, however, lead us into bizarre circumstances in which we agree with things or individuals solely to fit in. It has the potential to lead to groupthink rather than creative, diverse thinking. It can lead to us saying things we don’t intend and creating a culture where discussing accountability or disappointments is difficult.
We don’t want to expose our lack of understanding for fear of being judged negatively. When we don’t want to say “I don’t know” or “Can you tell me what that means,” we do this to give the impression that we do. Our communication is disrupted as a result of this. We don’t question the status quo or point out flaws because it’s more likely that we’re the ones who don’t understand rather than the process itself. In other words, we are likely to overlook opportunities and fail to identify hazards, both of which are tremendously costly in terms of our collective performance.
We avoid acknowledging our accomplishments and successes, and as a result, we don’t build on our strengths. We have a tendency to focus on the urgent or the difficulties, overlooking the ways in which we function successfully individually or collaboratively. When we are not comfortable communicating our inner concerns or questions but are quite comfortable putting on a professional ‘face,’ we can end up pushing ourselves into a significant case of impostor syndrome over time.
We avoid seeking input from others, despite the fact that most feedback, when offered properly, has the potential to improve our lives. We may be more concerned about what others may or may not think if we don’t get the chance to hear what they really believe. We can get caught up in over-analyzing ourselves or, even worse, failing to improve the things that need to be improved.
We prefer polite talks to brave ones, abandoning the important conversations. Talks about people rather than to people, talking behind people’s backs, silos and “us and them” thinking, and a lack of shared ownership are all possible outcomes of not being able to confront the unpleasantness of important conversations.
We prefer to blame, criticize, or deny our sentiments than take responsibility for them. When we are emotionally tested, our brains quickly go to defense mode, and in order to avoid the unpleasantness of being challenged, we are more prone to lash out at others or get preoccupied with feelings of sabotage.
Teams that work on their avoidance, which is a normal and natural location for many of us, will see improved levels of engagement, productivity, and service. Working on brave and compassionate communication can be challenging at times, but it will pay off in terms of your and others’ performance.