Communication Breakdowns: The Villains of Communication

There are a variety of reasons why someone might be a poor communicator.  Most of us are not born effective communicators.  We have to learn how to communicate and continuously build on these skills throughout lifetime.  When communication fails, most of us assume that the person is either unwilling or poor at communication.  The unwilling communicator hordes information at all costs while the poor communicator simply does not have the tools to be successful.  The corporate mentality that “knowledge is power” is the mantra of the information hoarder. The poor communicator may know or even not know that he or she needs to improve.   In working with employees in various settings, another reason for communication breakdowns became evident.

Several weeks ago I was working with a group of employees that were concerned about the failure of communication at all levels in their organization.  The organization was coming out of the recession, but still could not seem to bring people together.  As the discussion progressed, one employee stood up and described how communication in the organization was always about the communicator.  As the group discussed his comment, it became evident there could be a whole typology of communicators that are not seeking to disseminate information or call for action as much as meet some personal need.  The attendees were so frustrated with this manner of communicating that the style had overshadowed the message in most cases.

Based on their descriptions of interaction, several types of communication styles became evident:

People Pleaser – this communicator determines what he or she thinks someone wants to hear and provides it.  Reality does not matter as much as making sure everyone is as happy as possible.  I worked with a CEO that possessed this style.  His style worked wonderfully at raising morale for a few hours or even days until employees talked among themselves or actual action was taken on the matter discussed.  Once employees realized that everyone had been told something different, the organization went into momentary turmoil.  Eventually, employees lose faith and his and her message when they realize that the person is always telling them what they want to hear and actual outcomes can be very different.

Whiner – this communicator presents everything from a pessimistic point of view and usually links the message to his or her own unhappiness or anxieties.  Somehow the communicator feels better when others worry as well.  As a result, the communicator puts a negative spin on every message.  An employee during a focus group captured this perfectly when she mimicked a supervisor that would announce that “there is cake in the break room for everyone, but it is probably stale.”  The whiner perfectly exemplifies the statement “misery loves company.”

General – another communication villain gives orders like he or she is on the battlefield at all times, but remains aloof when discussing strategy or tactics.  The General is good at micromanaging and directing individual actions, but refuses to help employees understand the why behind any action taken.  He or she believes not communicating is for the employee’s own good: people should be on a need to know basis.  In other words, as the endowed leader, he or she knows best and should not bother employees with matters outside of their immediate job scope.  The scene from A Few Good Men where Jack Nicholson tells Tom Cruise he “can’t handle the truth” is a good example. The scene is on at

Bragger – the final type finds a way to feed his or her arrogance with every communication.  The Bragger interjects a positive image of him or herself into every communication and will actual refrain from communicating if self-appreciation cannot be included.  When a Bragger starts to speak, listeners quit listening as soon as the self-aggrandizement begins.

How do you deal with these villains of communication? We will talk about a fairly simple, yet proven approach for dealing with each of the aforementioned villains.

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