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The Burden of Communication Rests With the Person Who Wishes to Communicate

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of conducting a workshop down in Farmville for Longwood University MBA students on creativity and innovation as it impacts change in business.  These students are only on campus together a few times during the school year.  The rest of the time their classes are conducted online.

At the end of the class I asked if there were any questions.  One student, a public school teacher, raised his hand and said, “You’re saying there should be a reason for change.  We shouldn’t just change for change sake.”  I replied, “Yes.”

He continued, “In my school system, there doesn’t appear to be a rationale for the changes we’re being directed to execute.”  He then went on to ask, “How do we deal with that?”

You’d be surprised how often this situation comes to light.

My standard response to this kind of question is to ask for clarity.

But that implies a trusting environment where people feel safe being vulnerable.

I suggested he tell his immediate supervisor, “I want to be able to faithfully execute the proposed changes.  Can you help me understand the reasoning behind them?  Because, with the information I have; they just don’t make sense.”

There’s a risk here, because the supervisor may not understand either and in the world of academia where you’re supposed to know the answers, not knowing can make people feel foolish.  And no one likes feeling foolish.

It takes courage to admit you don’t understand.

Most people just lay low, waiting for more information.

Some go through the motions; others wait, hoping for clarity, doing nothing in the interim for fear of doing the wrong thing.

This lack of understanding and the commitment/buy-in that results from clarity may be one of the reasons most change initiatives fail.

This brings me to the image of the Chinese character for clarity at the top of the page.

To someone who reads Chinese that image communicates effectively and they may be

frustrated by other people’s inability to “get it.”

However, if the people you want to understand your message speak English, for example, and not Chinese; then you may need something like this to get your message across.

Either way, if you’re the leader, the one who wants to communicate; then I encourage you to ask your people to “play back to you” what they’ve heard.  So you can judge how effective you’ve been communicating what you want done and why.

You may be thinking, “Why do I need to communicate ‘why’ I want something done?”

I think that degree of transparency allows your people to use their judgement more effectively.

If you accept the premise that ‘the burden of communication rests with the person who wishes to communicate’, then don’t make your people have to ask.  Create a give and take where you communicate and you provide them the opportunity to tell you what they think they’ve heard and how it impacts them.

That way you not only know how effectively you’ve communicated, but sometimes you gather additional information that may alter your directive.

Is that clear?

How does this impact the way you communicate?

><(("> Gayle Turner

Gayle is a ><(("> Team Member at Catch Your Limit, a consulting firm headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. To learn more, visit

Posted in Business, Change, Creativity, Creativity/Innovation, Innovation, Leadership, Organizational Culture, Strategic Planning.


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  1. Alan Jones says

    Reminds me of what I was taught years ago – Get the why behind the what.

  2. Adam says

    Good post.

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