On one level I feel like I am writing and talking about communication in very different ways than I have before, and so I was heartened to look back at my first book - How to Make Work Fun! (Gower, 1995, republished 2018) - and see this short chapter about the insistency of communication.
Even then I implied that our desire for quick tips and techniques to get better at communication was always going to leave us lacking in the face of complex human dynamics.
Here's what I said back then about communication. Does it still resonate?
C is for Communication
Communication is not simple...and the revelation of its hidden complexity is one of the great discoveries of the twentieth century.... One sure sign of this complexity is our ignorance... Dr. P. N. ]ohnson-Laird
I know you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant to say... Richard Nixon
If this were a book on communication, I would tell you that communication has two immutable laws:
1. That you are communicating all the time (in your words, in your tone of voice, your actions, your dress, your hairstyle, your presence, your absence).
2. That you cannot not communicate.
Furthermore, I would explain that communication is not just a process of sending messages, but also one of negotiating meanings, and as in any negotiation, the meaning you intend is not necessarily the one which your audience takes away with them.
Furthermore, these transactions - sending and receiving messages and negotiating meanings - all take place in a dark, shifting and murky place called The Pool of Complexity, where everything you say and do -every initiative you launch, every explanation you give, every appraisal you make, every time you say Thank you' or 'What can I do to help?' or even 'Yes' - is complicated by an almost infinite number of factors, such as expectation, attitude, prejudice, indigestion, boredom, cynicism, hunches, uncomfortable seating, history, values and beliefs, air conditioning etc.
In fact, communication is such a hugely important and fundamentally thought-twistingly difficult thing to do that I'd advise you to leave it well alone if it were not for the two immutable laws mentioned above.
All that you can do is try to communicate brilliantly. How?
1: Think. Learn. Act.
2: Use communication to build your vision of how things could be.
3: Use it to build trust and a human face to your organization.
And how do you do that? Test everything you say and do against the question:
'Did what I have just done add to or detract from the values of trust and humanity that I am trying to build here?'
The ideal you should be aiming for is an environment of talk – chatting to each individual in the organization, free from the inhibitors of status, ambition, envy, or fear. This will take time and much effort at being there - not so much MBWA (Management By Walking About) as MBTA (Management By Talking About). It will also take nerve and humility. It will involve you living the message that you preach. There is a piece of Native American wisdom which suggests that the value of your life can be summed up in two questions: 'Does your philosophy grow corn? Do you walk your talk?'
Well, does it? And do you?