Indirect Communication and How It Undermines Trust in Organizations

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Many different reasons exist why certain actions taken within an organization can kill trust, quite apart from the regular dishonest activities that mislead staff, hidden agendas, office politics, career rivalry, illegal practices, ignorance, etc.

One of the biggest trust-killers is so basic it is easy to overlook. It is and has always been in the realm of communication. And one of the most destructive communication sins when it comes to trust is what I call ‘indirect communication.’

Most of us have both experienced ‘indirect communication’ and/or have practiced it at one time in our lives. In organization speak, indirect communication is known by other names, like ‘back stabbing,’ ‘throwing people under the bus’ (my all-time favorite), ‘going behind one’s back,’ or ‘going over someone’s head.’ That’s one form of ‘indirect communication’ most often engaged in by co-workers trying to gain a competitive advantage with a boss by dragging someone else down. Sometimes there is a valid reason behind it, for example, your immediate supervisor is a bully and you are the victim, but other times it comes about because of inexperienced and poor judgment, impatience, stupidity, vengeance, or just plain meanness. In these latter instances, the 'indirect communicator' can cause a lot of damage to others' careers as well as to his or her own career, not to mention the reputation of the company; not something they tend to think a great deal about at the time.

Another form of indirect communication is when a supervisor, leader, manager (call them what you will) attempts to address behavior issues with a blanket memo or staff meeting when the issue is only with one person, not everybody else. Instead of dealing one-on-one with that individual, the supervisor calls everyone together to go over the ‘policy and procedures’ manual thinking that reminding the whole team of the guidelines will solve the issue and save them the awkwardness of having to confront the individual.

What usually happens is that everyone in the room knows who the perpetrator is and becomes more resentful of that person for pulling everyone into it, wasting their time and often making them feel foolish, and they lose trust in their leader who has exposed his weakness because the issue is not being dealt with one-on-one as it should have been and he has taken the coward's way out.

The real work environment killer is that the individual perpetrator doesn’t ‘get it.’ They sit in the meeting with everyone else, wondering who it is their leader is talking about, totally ignorant to the fact that it is about them! They don’t see themselves or their behavior as a problem and the directive goes right over their head, and so they keep doing it.

This happens more often than you may think and it is a trust and work environment killer. I know because I have experienced it first hand many times, and in the early days of my career was even guilty of it myself once.

How about your company? How is indirect communication negatively impacting your organization or don't you believe you have that problem? You may be surprised.

Being informed is halfway to solving the problem, which is why I am giving all readers a copy of this special report "The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication" downloadable from:

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