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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:Recognition vs. Results

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Over at Ask a Manager is a short discussion of a prime example of poor communication from the business world. It's a poster about not complaining that will predictably result in the opposite effect. Regarding the poster, Allison Green nails down what is wrong with it:
Yeah, it's ridiculously inept and a bit patronizing. If there's a morale problem where people are doing a lot of complaining, you fix that by addressing whatever the underlying causes are, not by trying to silence people. And I'm board with "hey, you should talk to people who can actually change the thing you're complaining about," but the effective way to convey that to people is by talking to them one-on-one and showing you'll giving them a fair hearing, not by posting juvenile signs. (And really, you can't ask employees to act like adults while simultaneously posting childish signs to communicate with them.)
In other words, "Show, don't tell." One would rightly wonder how anyone could have thought this poster would achieve its stated objective, unless, perhaps he also encountered an interesting interview of humorist Dave Barry by economist Tyler Cowen. Barry comments at one point on his past as a business writing instructor:
OK, the most consistent mistake ... not mistake, but inefficiency of business writing -- and it was very consistent -- is the absolute refusal on the part of the writer to tell you right away what message he or she is trying to deliver. I used to say to them, "The most important thing you have to say should be in the first sentence." And "Oh, no, you can't. I'm an engineer. We did a 10-year study, this is way too complicated."

And inevitably, they were wrong. Inevitably, if they really thought about it, they were able to, in one sentence, summarize why it was really important. But they refused to do that because the way they found out was by spending 10 years of study and all this data and everything, and that's the way they wanted everyone to look at what they did. They wanted their supervisors to go plowing through all they had done to come to this brilliant conclusion that they had come to. [bold added]
In other words, too many people in business are more concerned about tooting their own horn than about conveying an important point. To me, the poster is an attempt to scream, "I'm all over this morale problem, boss: I'm 'doing something'." This isn't the only problem with this poster, but it is interesting to consider how much the communication in either case (and probably other aspects of general execution of work) would benefit from a focus on the correct goal. Pleasing a boss is good, but ideally, it's a normal consequence of a job well done. If one should work smarter, not harder, one should apply the same advice about getting properly noticed. Step One might be to realize that the two are separate, if complementary tasks.

-- CAV

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