This week's Tactics Tuesday asks the question, what can the Buddha teach us about communicating information to employees? Now you've probably seen one of these before, it's a Rorschach ink blot and it's a blot of near perfect symmetry that is devoid of all meaning. Psychologists use it to get a peek into our subconscious minds because what we see in the blot reveals more about what's in us than it does about what's in the blot. Show it to a million different people and you will have a subtly different interpretation about what it means. And that's because the blot itself is devoid of all meaning, other than that which the individual gives it.
One of the challenges of communicating information to employees is that nothing has meaning outside of that which the individual gives it. Everything, as the Buddha says is empty of meaning. Nothing has absolute meaning because if it did, every one of us would experience it in the same way, every time. We give meaning to what we hear, see, touch or taste according to our own maps of reality. No two people anywhere in the world have the same map of reality. Each one of us gives meaning to what we see, hear, touch or taste in subtly different ways and that's because our maps of reality are based on our very own unique set of values and beliefs that are laid down in the first seven years of our lives.
Well what significance does this have for internal communication? Let's say that a leader is communicating information to twenty employees and the purpose of that communication is to transfer meaning or understanding about something to those employees. Now that communication process entails twenty-one different maps of reality, each of which will give meaning to the leader's communication in subtly different ways. Now the leader has a clear idea in his or her mind the meaning of the communications, but is that the exact meaning that employees will give to the information they receive from the leader? Probably not. It's more likely that some employees will give a different interpretation or perspective to the information.
Many years ago, I was the IC specialist for an Australian financial services company that was being sold to a new owner for the second time in two years. Now having survived all the uncertainty of the first sale, employees had to go through it all again. So we knew their level of uncertainty and fear would be very high. Before the managing director fronted up to employees to inform them of the sale, we brainstormed all the issues or questions that they might have. We came up with a long and comprehensive list that gave us some comfort that we would have the information to hand to allay any concerns they had. Now, after announcing the sale to the assembled employees, the managing director asked if anyone had any questions. Well, there was a stony silence and then a lady at the back raised her hand and said "Yes, I have a question. I recently had the company logo embroidered on my shirt. Will I still be able to wear that shirt after the sale goes through?". Now, not in a million years would we have ever thought of that particular issue. And yet, to that employee and their map of reality, the information was critical to the meaning that the sale would have for that lady.
What can a leader do to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding the shared meaning of their communications? Many years ago, Cissaro gave us the answer to that question when he said, "If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.". So, if you want me to understand your communications in exactly the same way as you intended, you need to know as much about my map of reality as possible. That's why we involve employees in the communications journey by asking them about their perspective or experience of the organization. By listening to their input and acting on their feedback, in accordance with their map of reality.
Well, that's my suggested tactic for this Tuesday. Ensure your target audience derives the meaning you intended with communicating information to employees by firstly understanding their thoughts, their feelings and their words. What do you think? Do you think seeking first to understand your target audience is the key to being understood? Well, that's it for this time. I look forward to seeing you again soon. Until then, happy communicating.
Lorri Lennon is an award-winning advisor, trainer and author in leadership communication. She has 20 years’ experience managing communications for large global organisations.
Lorri conducts master classes to help participants maximise their communications ROI.
Mariska Mannes is an experienced communication consultant. She holds a Master of Management majoring in Communication, which allows her to bring a blend of qualification and practical experiences to her training programmes. Her expertise is in business and cross cultural communication and behaviour. For more information visit Mariska's LinkedIn profile.