There is a funny thing about the communication business. Most of the time we are terrible at communicating, specifically with each other. Much of it comes from the cognitive bias of need for significance, especially in the workplace. If you subscribe to the Tony Robbins mindset, the need for significance is a basic human need along with certainty, variety, connection, growth and contribution. Most of these are quite healthy. However, when these needs are not met, we can start to drift down the path of destructive behavior, both to ourselves and our fellow co-workers.
There are many who don’t have positions of authority who feel marginalized by their caste in a particular company. When we fail to have these needs met, we then allow them to impact our decision making to the negative. This gives rise to the need for significance becoming a cognitive bias which negatively impacts our decision making. This negative impact often rears its ugly head by creating silos in the workplace. Websters Dictionary defines a silos as “an isolated grouping, department, etc, that functions apart from others especially in a way seen as hindering communication and cooperation.”
We withhold critical information that could help others because we have to satisfy our own need for significance. By withholding critical information, it gives us a sense of power over other that which we would not otherwise have had. This power is created by this cognitive bias and we exhibit destructive behavior by cutting off critical communication just to create a felling of self-worth, of importance, that we would not have otherwise felt. Crazy, right? George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” There is the message and there is how it received. And how it is received is the only portion of the message that matters. That is the portion that has the impact. Whether it is spoken face to face, over the phone, text message, carrier pigeon or smoke signals, if the message is interpreted poorly, then it is ineffective.
Many of us are so wrapped up in what we want to say, that we don’t take into account to people on the other end of the message. It was Robert Frost who eloquently stated, “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” We are so interested in the send, we don’t stop to think about the receive. If that receive diminishes the significance of the person on the other end, especially in an office environment, that in itself is a cognitive bias. We let our ego get in the way, therefore, diminishing the other person in the process. That can cause a negative reaction from the other person. They become resentful. That resent can lead to rise of the ‘need for significance’ and then our conversation partner begins to create walls and silos to make themselves important, all because they felt marginalized by the initial conversation.
Sydney Harris Chicago Journalist and later syndicated columnist used to say, “The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” If we fail to get through, then our communication is ineffective. That is not a debate. Again, there is the message and how it is received. Dr. John Lund, sociologist and psychologist says, “Don’t communicate to be understood; rather, communicate so as not to be misunderstood.” That also includes misinterpretation, misreading and minimizing the other person in the communication chain. That miscommunication can lead to these other communicative problems, like negative reactions to the need for significance and creating workplace silos, all of which can foster a toxic work environment.
And then there are some who just live for it. Perhaps is due to a weak home environment where they are often minimized or marginalized. They then carry that to the workplace and take it out on fellow co-workers. They feel powerless at home, and crate power in the workplace through the act of withholding information. Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof claims, “Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised.” This makes its way to workplace where some will try to level the playing field in the one environment where they think they can get away with such tactics.
Others just have poor social skills and the fine art of having a conversation is lost on many, as they were never taught how to listen to understand. We are all so amped up on creating our own significance that we only listen to respond. Some people are just toxic. They live to create misery. The take pride and derive joy from creating this environment. Author Travis Bradbury, who’s area of expertise is emotional intelligence, who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 ” Toxic people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people's buttons.” These are the people that are always pointing out what is wrong with everyone else, but never with themselves. They do no wrong. It is always your fault. No amount of communication will fix this type of personality, it may be best to steer clear, but that act in itself creates a silo.
In farming, silos are mostly for storage, for holding. In business, they become mostly for withholding. But, we can stop this. As leaders, we can pay attention to the roles of others in the work environment and give them the opportunity shine when possible. This can satisfy the need for significance that we all possess. Simple recognition and acknowledgement can go a long way, when warranted. We can practice our communication skills to become better at our interoffice interaction. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn states that we should, “Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” If we improve our internal communication, pay attention to the impact our words have on others, cut down on our reliance on e-mail and text messages as primary forms of communication, we can cut down on the office drama and that will leave the silos for farmers.