NZIM How to watch out for the TEGO syndrome

Communication today is dominated by the increasing speed of the electronic exchange of messages and information. Little time remains for the nuances of meaning or for the familiarity and trust of relationships built up over time and leavened by shared experiences.
Trusting relationships grew out of daily discussions and led through deliberative consideration to outcomes based on understanding and goodwill.
Life then had predictability and continuity, which can’t be assumed any more.
Rapid decision making is the driver now. Flexibility and adaptability are compensatory balances, but the unrelenting speed of change in the global marketplace rides roughshod over planners and underlines the uncertainty of the future.
Carpe diem – seize the day – is the call. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown, and people are the pawns.
But when the electronic humming is temporarily silent the maintenance and warmth of human relationships surface helping us to share feelings, hopes, fears and ideas, and to make time to talk with and listen to each other. That is our indestructible humanity and we will not lose it.
Communication is the exchange of meaning. It becomes authentic when it encompasses trust and rapport – the sharing of ideas, feelings and respect between people that creates bridge of understanding.
Trust is established when people work together and the accuracy and completeness of information passing between them is accepted without question. This is vital dependency.
Globalisation and all its effects has, however, generated uncertainty to point where there is no assurance that business can continue in its present form. Self-preservation has become priority and mutual trust has diminished. Information is shared less freely and overall effectiveness is suffering at time when the need for good communication is critical.
In today’s knowledge age new knowledge is continuous. New technology and new thinking rolls over us in unceasing abundance. Understanding sufficient of it is essential for our survival. And there are many sources – the internet, television, the printed word and all the other media outlets. We can’t escape it.
A secondary school teacher recently said: “I’m so busy pumping knowledge into my class to meet the requirements that I have no time to get alongside them individually, to know them so we can really talk to each other.”
And in the workplace where there is daily requirement to respond immediately to pressures, the frequent need to change has replaced predictability, and there is constant readjustment of practices and procedures.
Managers are often reminded of the need to communicate more with employees who say: “No-one tells us anything. We want to know what’s going on.” Newsletters, bulletins and emails are prepared and distributed and more staff meetings are held, and managers may feel they can say: “We have told them.”
Yet somehow the communication gaps remain.

A reason for breakdown
Perhaps the communication process is creating its own problems.
Elders, leaders and wise ones have, since time began, conveyed their thoughts, wishes and directions to others who listened and responded. Because these speakers tended to talk often and at length, listeners developed their own selective listening techniques. Listening, in fact, takes up more of our waking hours than any other single activity. Listening, as opposed to the auditory process of hearing, means interpreting and understanding the significance of the sounds.
The point is that listening is voluntary action – it cannot be assumed by the speaker. One definition of listening is “wanting to hear”. This gap is bridged when the speaker provides the stimulus to generate response. This is the point at which most communication breaks down – the listener isn’t motivated to listen.

Get their attention
Many global factors impinge on the local economy. The objective in this instance is to give everyone information relevant to their organisation and its business environment to influence their activities, and seek their understanding and input.
Telling them won’t be effective, no matter what medium is used, unless they individually and collectively feel affected and responsive.
Emails and other written or electronic messaging passes information one way, but lacks the human interaction of conversation and its associated feedback. There is no assurance that the full meaning has been transferred. Yet many managers prefer to use email apparently unaware that employees are distanced by its aloofness.
Too often management announces that crises have created demand for firm action. But this overlooks the probability that the media, the internet and the grapevine have already given people facts and rumours about the situation and they will assess the management announcement in light of this, drawing their own conclusions.
A staff meeting should be opened with positive remarks before launching into factual explanation of why the meeting has been called.
This will probably generate questions. The proposed plan of action should then be outlined and opened for discussion. Be responsive to constructive thinking. Implementation is then based on cooperative action.
Management’s opening sentences are critical. Audience attention must be captured and held in less than two minutes. After that they start to switch off. Without hook and bait to grab their interest messages will be wasted.
One speaker started meeting recently with challenging question: “In your knowledge of all our operations how could we cut costs by 10%?” and then put his audience straight into small discussion groups.
It might be appropriate here to quote from student’s examination paper “Socrates was wise man. He went around giving advice to people. They killed him.” Plan your approach with care.
The point is: Understanding and learning start when the person at the front stops talking and invites questions and comments and is guided by what then ensues.

Evidence of failure
Evidence of failure to communicate is commonplace. It is often apparent even before the speaker has stopped – in meetings, committees, conferences, courses, classrooms, churches and even in small groups.
It’s called the TEGO Syndrome. Their eyes glaze over. Communication overload – the system has shut down – the message has not passed. And indirectly it costs the country millions.
TEGO is causal factor in:
• Communication breakdowns in the workplace
• Failures in the education system
• Diminished outcomes from training courses
• School drop-outs and truancy
• Falling church attendances.
Solutions lie in analysing causes to precede these outcomes.
Speakers are often informed, well intentioned and have much to contribute – but they assume their message will be received and understood and do not seek or receive confirmation by feedback.

Ask and listen
Effective management is measure of effective communication, measured not by the output but by the reception and the outcome.
• Most relationship problems arise from communication misunderstanding.
• Might questioning bring more reality into lecture, conference or sermon?
And – to be more relevant here:
• Do you really want to know how your workforce could significantly improve your productivity? (After all, they do the work.)

Gordon Rabey is Wellington-based management author.

Five-point performance awareness index

Does each employee understand:
1. The real purpose of the organisation in its environment and the competition it faces?
2. The significance of their job in the process chain, the key performance indicators, and what is dependent on it?
3. The linkages with other units and with customers/clients?
4. The critical need for innovation and cost effectiveness to retain customers/clients?
5. The value of shared knowledge?
Can each manager verify this?

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