Introduction

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself...and you are the easiest person to fool,” wrote the Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman. Physicists are not the only ones who must guard against self-delusion—managers must, as well. And the temptation of self-deception proves almost irresistible when it comes to the elusive business of communication. Most people overestimate their ability to communicate and underestimate the difficulty of the challenge. Therefore, the purpose of Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness is to enable managers to strategically resolve typical organizational communication problems.

This presents an unusual challenge for two reasons. First, our knowledge of the communication process continues to grow and change. New and exciting theories have recently appeared on the horizon which allow us to see communication in a light never before possible. Only in the past few years have we started to discern the implications of these ideas. For instance, some scholars have challenged the traditional assertion that “understanding” or “persuasion” should be the only goals of communication. Sometimes managers are purposefully ambiguous. What are the implications of this notion for managers? Can misunderstandings be useful in an organization? These are the types of questions entertained in these pages.

Second, there is what I call the “Everybody/Anybody Phenomena.” Translation: Because everybody communicates, anyone can become an expert on the subject. Hence, what often gets passed off as training for “communication excellence” consists of nothing more than warmed-over platitudes or rehashed pop psychology. That is unfortunate, not only because it misrepresents a rich field of scholarship but also because managers encounter a host of communication challenges that are not addressed by the “Everybody/Anybody” speakers. They treat ideas like they are cotton candy; something fluffy and sweet, but not the staples of organizational life. Nothing could be further from reality. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences. When the communication system breaks down, tragedy is often the result. A case in point: the space shuttle Columbia tragedy, discussed in the culture chapter (Chapter 4).

The impetus for this manuscript came from research I conducted in over fifty organizations and from concerns revealed in numerous consulting engagements (see www.imetacomm.com/CME4). The methodology consisted of administering surveys and conducting interviews with employees. As I conducted communication assessments, often in conjunction with students, I discovered a group of concerns that emerged as common themes in these organizations. For instance, executives were often dismayed at the seeming impossibility of getting departments to communicate effectively with one another. Employees were often frustrated by the lack of useful feedback from their managers. Therefore, the manuscript took shape around these concerns. In subsequent years I’ve had the privilege of advising executives, managers, government officials, military leaders and union officials from a wide array of different organizations. These experiences have reinforced my view of the importance of effective communication and reaffirmed my commitment to finding actionable strategies to address the major communication challenges that every leader faces. I’ve integrated the insights gleaned from these experiences into the manuscript.

The illustration below provides the framework for the book. At the hub of managerial effectiveness lies communication, corporate culture, and ethics. The first two chapters are devoted to explaining the complex process of communication. Chapter 3 focuses on communication ethics. If managers are not deemed to be ethical communicators, then their lack of credibility undermines any attempt at effective communication. Chapter 4 concerns the core issue of corporate culture, which has a pervasive impact on the communication climate. The spokes of the wheel represent six critical communication challenges most managers face. In each case, I begin by analyzing the challenge and close with practical recommendations based on actual cases. These six chapters discuss:

• Selecting and using communication technologies (Chapter 5)
• Managing data, information, knowledge, and action (Chapter 6)
• Providing performance feedback (Chapter 7)
• Communicating across organizational boundaries (Chapter 8)
• Communicating about organizational changes (Chapter 9)
• Cultivating an innovative spirit (Chapter 10)

The final chapter (Chapter 11) focuses on the complex issue of measuring and judging communication effectiveness. It suggests a way to build a world class organizational communication system. It represents the rim of the wheel because it provides the macro-level viewpoint that holds the entire manuscript together. The wheel symbolizes wholeness as well as movement. I hope this book will provide a more complete picture of managerial communication effectiveness, while presenting an image of the ever-changing nature of that quest.

I use examples from the business world—many from my consulting experiences—as well as from a wide range of arenas including politics, history, science, and art. The rationale: Communication issues pervade every arena of life. Unless otherwise noted, I have changed the names and slightly altered the background in order to “protect the guilty.” When particularly illuminating, I discuss the findings of key scholarly studies. However, I focus on the practical implementation of the research. I hope that executives, managers, potential managers, training personnel, and students of organizational communication will find in these pages a way to abide by Professor Feynman’s “first principle.”