The sublime art of miscommunication

Or ‘how not to communicate’.

In the last week or so I have both watched and received some bungled efforts at communication.  I will be charitable and consider them as bungled because the alternative – deliberate and considered activity – would be disappointing.  I think we can all learn by others’ mistakes, so what went wrong?

  • THE AMBUSH: a committee member dropped an unexpected bombshell. Some other members of the committee had foreknowledge, but the chair was surprised.  The committee should have been a place of collaboration, and whilst I feel sure that there are times when the ambush tactic is useful or expected (politics, law courts), its use is hugely divisive.  On this occasion the member should have shared his subject matter with the chair beforehand and run the risk of getting support! Continue reading

The art of leadership (according to Dilbert)

Today I had an epiphany.

I have a tear-off, one sheet a day, Dilbert calendar on my desk.  I enjoy the humour and the cynical accuracy, and I pretend that I have never met people like the cartoon nor found some of the situations to be uncannily accurate.

And reading today’s strip I wondered how much we fall for the confidence trick: leadership is the art of trading imaginary things in the future for real things today.

In this context perhaps there are two sorts of manager: those who will develop and encourage their people, and those who exploit the staff to better serve their own careers – the latter being the more likely to use Dilbert’s art.

Maybe, then, Lewis Carroll also understood the lure of the dangled carrot – with the Queen of Hearts proclaiming to Alice [in Wonderland]: “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today“.

Knowing that there is no jam tomorrow, why do we chase the dangling carrot? Because even though our rational brain says “no”, there’s still a worm of hope which says “maybe” – a gambler who wants te believe.

Now knowing the art, I know which leader I want to be (and it’s not as evidenced by Catbert!).

The truth, the whole truth, and what the press reports

A friend of a friend has recently been quoted in the popular press.  Nothing too spectacular there, except that on this occasion she said something she probably shouldn’t have said.  It wasn’t necessarily untrue, but it had an explosive quality which made it particularly interesting to the newshounds – and was reported with a (possibly deliberately misleading) lack of context which made for an incendiary reception elsewhere.

And therein lies the nature of truth.  In court we are asked to deliver the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But when we are quoted for effect what has happened? If we told the truth (probably), the whole truth (unlikely), and nothing but the truth then what will be reported? The truth (maybe), the whole truth (almost certainly not, context rarely sells), and nothing but the truth (I think not).

History is littered with examples of people who have said something true but unpalatable, and all to often it is the messenger who is called to account – perhaps first observed by Sophocles as “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”.

I don’t know whether the unintentional flames will be doused with apology, or fed with a scapegoat. But I do know that I really should learn from another’s misfortune and figure out the politician’s art of using lots of words to say nothing, especially in circumstances where I don’t want a Pyrrhic victory.