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Strategic communication: only the names change

June 4, 2011
A game of chess, anyone


Every employee relations problem I have ever encountered boils down to one thing: communication. Failure or win; communication is the champion or the loser. So if it’s common knowledge that communication is central to good strategy, why aren’t humans better at it? After all, we like challenges; we like entertainment. If strategy and communication were not the dynamic duo in the art of winning where would we be? Well, probably where a lot of people end up: paralyzed by ego or fear or inertia.

Humans are all essentially the same. We have insecurities, flaws, quirks, needs, wants and a whole host of other common weirdnesses, yet we believe as individuals we are so vastly different from one another. On the other hand, we seem to find comfort in encountering people who are similar to us – good or bad. That means we’re really not adrift alone with our respective problems in isolation. Common ground.

When people are afraid to communicate they can’t be strategic. If their egos are too big and they can’t imagine anything outside of what’s in front of them they can’t be strategic. If they’re bound to the Earth by a gravitational pull that could never be quantified because it’s too unsettling to face – they can’t be strategic. They are compromised.

Ideally the damage brought about by these conditions is reversible, but people can’t get there without a hand from someone who reassures them by listening and problem-solving with them. [This is why people talk about the micro-dramas of their daily work and personal lives with friends or family. It helps.]

Counterintuitively, the school of thought that advises total detachment for strategic advantage doesn’t always apply without some degree of collateral damage – usually in the form of innocent bystanders. Therefore, being detached can be a liability. However, having some degree of detachment with a mix of sympathy or even empathy for the stakeholders in any situation can provide insights that would otherwise be absent. I’m not talking about manipulating people; I’m talking about sincerity, integrity, and organizational justice.

Consulting in HR and employee relations reminds me of how hard it can be sometimes to watch good people struggle with communication as well as the accompanying personal angst. Everybody wants the same thing, right? Separate the people from the problem and stay on a high level of strategy. Keeping one’s value system front and center is imperative. Remember, only the names change.

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