Sending isn’t receiving
In the beginning, we talked to each other. Well, at least more than we do now. Yes, we talk and write to each other, but fewer messages than ever are getting through. Forming ideas, such as multi-jurisdictional interoperability plans, is difficult enough, but getting those ideas across to another individual, much less several departments or entire communities, is another ball game. And, when many local and state government leaders step up to the plate and try to build on such ideas, many are only whiffing, rather than hitting, the ball.
Talking is not communicating. Writing is not communicating. Ideas are only communicated when they are understood by the listener or reader. Think of yourself as the transmitter and your idea as a signal that must reach a receiver. Too often, something gets in the way and the message isn’t received, or if it is, it is misunderstood. What causes the interference?
Each discipline has invented its own language, which at best only approximates English. Like their wonky engineer cousins, those in IT departments are only the latest offenders to use bewildering terms, but government officials are among the pioneers in constructing confusing language. The good news is that many leaders in IT, engineering and government are recognizing the value of effective communication and are changing their bad habits.
Attention Deficit Disorder
Because of the never-ending assault on our eyes and ears — courtesy of our technological breakthroughs such as e-mails and 200 cable channels — most people in business and government suffer from ADD. That places a special burden on communication, one that unfortunately requires repetition, which only adds to the next problem …
The chances of your message getting through that evolutionary clutter leads full circle back to what we are rediscovering, that being in front of someone, rather than using television or brochures, or picking up the telephone rather than e-mailing, are the most effective ways to communicate important ideas. E-mails are appropriate for incidental thoughts, but complex ideas that will affect people’s lives require your full attention and the attention of the person you want to reach. Then, and only then, can you begin to try to communicate, using simple, concise and jargon-free language that is delivered eye to eye, or at least ear to ear. And if you want proof that it works, talk to the local and state government leaders we’ve profiled in the past few years about how personal communication is the key to effectively managing a problem or adding positively to the lives of their residents.
The message is simple: we are not an amorphous mass that pays attention because we are paid to or because the message could be important to us. We are individuals, and if we are not addressed as such, don’t expect us to really listen.