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Monday, June 20, 2011

Please, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

One day you wake up and realize there is something that needs to be done.You contemplate how you can help effect this needed change, and you decide to take on a new endeavor to help accomplish the task at hand. You willingly put yourself into a team position that requires total participation.With a high degree of self-assurance, you fully dedicate yourself to this worthy cause -- something, though difficult to achieve, that you know you can help accomplish.

With no further hesitation, you launch yourself into action. As you labor intensively with teammates to facilitate the project, you handle complications and problems that arise, and you keep your noble goal in mind as you work through these stumbling blocks. Your investments of time and effort continue to mount as you begin to realize your goals.

Then... someone misinterprets your motives. 

You are devastated as you stand accused. You can't believe anyone could find fault in what you are doing and in how you are doing it. Try as you might to understand the alleged flaws in your position, you just cannot see what you have done wrong. You feel betrayed.

Some Research About Miscommunication

Sue Dyer, the first woman in the U.S. to head a major collective bargaining unit for the construction industry and author of the award winning book Partner Your Project, has done considerable research concerning what makes a project fail and what contributes to the successful completion of a project. Many people she interviewed (95%) said good communication was the main reason for success.

But, Dyer believes that what people conceive to be a “communication” issue is actually a symptom of the real problem – or root cause. Dyer states, "When a team identifies their problem as one of poor communication and then works to try and resolve the issue, significant improvement could not be made. Only by understanding and addressing the root cause was any improvement seen." (Sue Dyer, "The Root Causes of Miscommunication,", April 3 2007)

Dyer believes there are seven different root causes for team failure that the project teams misidentified as poor communication. Here they are:

1. Fear – Fear makes team members feel the need to protect their own interests. When we feel to the need to protect we are not going to be open, therefore communication is going to be stifled. To overcome fear you must work to develop trust among the team members....Trust erodes when someone feels they are being treated unfairly. 

2. Misaligned expectations – When the team members each have a different expectation on how things are supposed to work (usually about roles, responsibilities and authority), you have misaligned expectations.

3. Confusion – When there is confusion, chaos will break out. Again, this can be over roles and responsibilities, or over processes.

4. Loss of Momentum – When everyone on the team is not in the boat, facing the same direction, and rowing toward project success, the project loses momentum. The more frustration there is, the more loss of momentum you will have.

5. Dissatisfaction – Research shows that when project teams dread going to their jobs (the level of the job satisfaction is low) the project is in deep trouble.

6. Lack of Commitment – When people aren’t really committed to the success of your project or if there are inadequate resources, you can have “slack.” This is like slack in a rope. You don’t have a strong team focused on what it will take to succeed.

7. Unconscious Incompetence – Inexperienced staff can face a very steep learning curve. They focus on what is available to them: The specifications, contact and drawings. Documentation becomes the focus instead of problem solving.

Sue Dyer's article in Dyer Predictions:


When people begin to solve problems and move from a given state to a desired goal, they must employ some very difficult problem-solving techniques. Abstraction, brain-storming, hypothesis testing, lateral thinking, reduction, research, trial and error, proof finding -- these techniques are often used. Most prove very difficult to employ. No one person is a master, or even a good practitioner, of all.

Each person working to solve any problem has personal talents and personal interests. As a person applies his or her attributes in a direction that seems most comfortable, the person gains confidence with each small success. The individual feeds upon these successes to sustain his or her industry.

It is easy for an individual to lose sight of a common goal in the midst of action. Also, it is also easy for a person to misunderstand the thoughts and actions of another who goes about "skinning the same cat" in a somewhat foreign manner.

When someone accuses a fellow worker of performing his duty in an unbecoming manner, injury is likely to occur. How many times could this injury be avoided if people took the time and effort to better understand the workings of people's individual brains? Often, a little more communication might enlighten those who interpret things from a singular stance. People must learn to find the root causes of communications problems and work together to correct them.

Understanding the motives of others and looking within them for answers is very difficult. These things are so hard that many prefer to avoid doing them at all. They prefer to wear blinders as they rush headlong into a difficult journey. And, even then, people tend to see those things more clearly that they can easily comprehend.

Suffice it to say that anything cause worth fighting for demands that the combatants survey the entire battlefield. And, while doing this, it doesn't hurt for them to offer common respect for the efforts of all their comrades. Some miscommunication and misinterpretation are inevitable, but these mistakes must not destroy the major battle plans.

"The delusions of self-love cannot be prevented, 
but intellectual misconceptions as to the means 
of achieving success may be corrected.
-George Henry Lewes

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