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Group of professional people

Good communication is critical to an organization.  Though this may seem obvious, the reality is organizations struggle every day with communication.  As an example, a Crew Leader may view the Apprentice’s yawn during a morning huddle as disrespectful.  Conclusions like this can be misguided (ex: the Apprentice is a new parent), and over time can have a detrimental effect on employee relationships and team performance.  The process that leads to this conclusion is known as the ladder of inference and is described below:

  • First, the experience or data occurs (ex: morning huddle).
  • Next, we select the data we want to internalize (ex: a yawn).
  • Next, we add meaning to the data we collect based on corporate culture (ex: these young employees do not care about their jobs).
  • Next, we make assumptions (ex: he made no attempt to hide his yawn)
  • We then make our final conclusions/beliefs (ex: he does not respect me as a leader)
  • We then plot against team members (ex: I will come down hard on this Apprentice)

Can you believe how fast we’ve moved from a yawn to plotting against someone?  These thoughts in our head are generated in a matter of seconds!  To make matters worse, once we draw conclusions, we begin to look for those behaviors (from the same individuals) that irked us in the first place.  Every time we see that behavior, we become increasingly annoyed (this is known as the reflexive loop).  Now increase the team size to 5+ members, with each team member having his or her own assumptions and beliefs, and you can begin to see how the team can break down…

So how can we improve communication?  We can do the following:

  • We can start by reflecting; becoming aware of our thinking and reasoning.
  • Next, we can share our thoughts process with others.
  • Finally, we can test or verify our assumptions and beliefs by inquiring into other’s thinking and reasoning.  Questions the Crew Leader could ask in this situation would be…What are the key takeaways?  Did you seem tired this morning?  Were you bored this morning?

As we have seen, poor communication can lead to poor team performance.  Trust your instincts, but try to verify your assumptions and conclusions. Remember to Pause, Reflect…and Choose!

Ross, R. (1994). The ladder of inference. In P. Senge, A. Kleiner, C. Roberts, R. Ross, & B. Smith (Eds.) (1994). The fifth discipline field book. New York: CurrencyDoubleday, pp. 242-246.

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