The Great Fear
I truly dislike – and am fascinated by – the general corporate fear of communication. As puzzling as it may be today, it’s still around. I recently spoke about this, let’s call it The Great Fear, with Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, U.S.
What are the origins of The Great Fear?
“The Great Fear, as you call it, comes from a twisted view of reality: a belief that that the world is made up of rational actors who all are convinced that a free market knows best and tangible assets are all that really matters.”
So, it comes from the belief that communication will only stir things up? It's a fear of rocking the boat?
"Yes. But the world is already rocking. The world is more chaotic than most business people realize. If those people stepped out of the warped view that communication will disturb the order of things, they will discover that ambiguity is something that is worth getting used to in the business world today."
What do many managers actually fear?
“Some of this fear comes from worrying about being perfect, which is, of course, impossible. It's easier to say nothing rather than to be wrong. But, not communicating is actually a very strong form of communication in itself. Especially after Web 2.0, if you are not part of the conversation, you are making a very profound statement about your position in the world. At lower levels in the organization, you learn not to criticize because in some organizations senior management does not want any real feedback."
But at those lower levels people still have opinions and act accordingly? Or do managers believe that employees talk less amongst themselves and complain less if they’re not openly communicated to?
“Who knows what they believe about this? But if they do not bother to communicate, there is a very good chance that they also do not listen very well, so the two go hand in hand. It's a vicious circle.”
What would be your advice to a manager who is fearful of communication, or of communicating in the wrong way?
“If you want to truly differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace, do the opposite of what others are doing. In this case, that means communicate more rather than less. Give your opinion freely, and look at dialogue as a way to not only give, but receive feedback.”
What can anyone do to reduce The Great Fear?
“Remember that strategy tells people where to go, but communication tells them how to get there. If you do not communicate in an open, straightforward way both internally and externally, you may as well be hanging a sign on the front door of your business saying ‘Gone fishing’.”