No Communication Sends a Message… (and it’s usually not good)


In these past few weeks of blogging about Communication for PM’s and Techies, I realize that there are situations where No Communication sends an even LOUDER message.  You probably already know what no communication means (we’ve all been victims of the “silent treatment” at one point in our life!) – but it also means a negative view of what will be the outcome of communication.

Here’s what I mean by the first interpretation of “No Communication” and the messages it sends:

  1. Avoiding communication:
    After a negative interaction with someone (criticism, conflict, discomfort, intimidation, or other non-positive interaction), it can be difficult to talk to the person the next time.  As time passes, a continuing lack of communication can amplify the original discomfort – it just doesn’t feel good to undergo the initial encounter and we don’t want to experience it yet again.  If the original situation was verbal or in-person, subsequent communication often ensues in a more distant way such as email.  Often the offensive party doesn’t even know that they caused the situation in the first place and is unaware of the ongoing angst.
  2. Eliminating communication:
    We do this when we block incoming phone calls or divert unwanted emails to trash.  Sometimes this is a good stop-gap measure to prevent unwanted communication until it eventually stops all together.  While this is a good tactic to prevent communication, it sometimes backfires by escalating into more direct forms of contact before the sender gets the message you do not want to communicate.
  3. Ignoring communication:
    Instead of avoiding or blocking communication, we also sometimes ignore incoming communication through call screening, letting calls go to voice mail, leaving emails unopened, and simply not responding.  While this may be an appropriate coping mechanism with personal situations, it does not work well in a corporate environment when you are expected to communicate effectively.

In all the above situations where NO communication is sent, there is a perceived “clear” message that is sent regardless of the lack of words. To the person on the receiving end of the avoidance, blocking or ignorance – there is a message they receive.  They will make their own judgment (based on their own perceptions) about what they think is happening, and then typically come to the wrong conclusions.  “Perception is reality in the absence of fact” is an adage that certainly bodes well when there is no communication exchanged.  One such flawed conclusion could be that the original message (that caused the problem) was never received or was interrupted.  If this is the perception, then the person on the receiving end of the “no communication” may resend their message or escalate the attempts to communicate and send increasingly urgent (and sometimes event abusive) messages back to entice a reply.  We might say that “They’ll eventually get the message”, but unfortunately this does not always happen.  When we want to communicate with someone who does not want to communicate with us, we sometimes become quite dense.  The best communication is always active communication rather than passive non-communication.

There is a second interpretation of what no communication means. It can be the pre-conception of negative (i.e., No means negative) outcomes or envisioning a negative result.  For example, if I am going into a meeting where I anticipate a negative outcome and express such sentiments to co-workers beforehand, it is likely that the outcome WILL be negative.  The saying, “if you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right” – ties into this.  Envisioning and verbalizing negative communication outcomes is like a self-fulfilling prophecy before the fact.  Why not envision potential positive outcomes and then making that happen?  It won’t necessarily change what happens in every situation, but aren’t a few positive outcomes a good reason to change your outlook?

It really can work – envisioning a positive outcome to a tenuous communication can give direction and a positive boost to upcoming meetings and interactions.  Why not work towards the positive instead of the other way?

Remember, no communication delivers a message all the same – and it’s usually not good or lead to a positive outcome.  Plan to communicate by communicating effectively.

To your positive interactions and communication!

Carol

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One response to “No Communication Sends a Message… (and it’s usually not good)

  1. Good post. One exception is when, as a manager or with a manager allows disagreement, the use of the phrase; “I hear what you are saying but disagree. Here is why…..”. Where the disagreeing party is encouraged to express their missgivings, difference of opinion and makes their case for changing the managers mind. Unfortunately, in over thirty years experience in Quality, I have only had two managers who had the maturity and courage to allow this type of interchange.

    Like

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