information overload poor communication

The American poet, Robert Frost, said, “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep saying it.”

Ironically, in today’s age of instantaneous communication and social media, communication breakdowns are one of the biggest complaints we hear. It’s a complex issue with both cause and effect tightly intertwined. In many cases, people don’t have the skills to address tough issues with each other. And so, they do it poorly and raise defensiveness in the other person or stir up conflict that can get personal and quite vicious. People are often afraid to speak up because they have seen others who have been ostracized, nudged off the promotion track, ignored, or punished with the least desirable assignments.

Compounding communication issues is information overload. German sociologist, Hartmut Rosa, calculates that since pre-modern times, communications have increased by a factor of ten million times and information transmission by ten billion.

It’s not clear how Rosa delineates information and communication. There is a crucial difference between them. Many managers confuse the two. We’re drowning in information, while thirsting for communication.

Many managers confuse “communicating” with “dumping information” through e-mail or “death by PowerPoint.” This chokes meaningful two-way communication. Everyone is scrambling to frantically clear inboxes or grind through yet another call or meeting. As publisher Malcolm Forbes said, “before you say what you think, be sure you have.” Too often, communication quantity is confused with quality, and little time is given to thoughtful conversations.

And when the organization’s structure is badly designed, and processes or methods for moving information, workflow, products, or customers through it are flawed, all kinds of errors, rework, waste, and frustration build up. People will often look at the resultant mess and say, “We need more communication around here.” In fact, they may need less, but they need it to be better! In these cases, “communication problems” are a symptom of underlying disconnects of processes, systems, or organizational structure.

Tomorrow we publish my August blogs in our September issue of The Leader Letter. This issue looks at two elements of the vast topic of communications: persuasive writing and balancing information and communications. We’ll look at how often strong technical or analytical leaders fall into the trap of cold, heartless logic. We’re moved much more by our hearts than our heads. Emotionally intelligent leaders use language in powerfully persuasive ways.

Highly effective leaders balance information and communication. We’ll define and contrast both. Then we’ll give you a few communication pathways and principles to help with your balance.

The best definition of persuasive communication I’ve ever heard is “logic on fire.” Connecting head and heart is a powerful combination. How’s your balance?