WINNIPEG, MB - Back in the day as both a business executive and later a politician, I would be greeted after an absence from my office with a pile of pink telephone call slips detailing every call I had received. I either answered them immediately or gave instructions to my assistant about how to respond. At the most, I might wait a day if I needed more information or time to think. It was considered a mark of business rudeness and political suicide not to respond, and quickly, in some form. Not so today.
How often, over the past few years, have you cursed your local politician for not answering your calls or getting back to your emails or even having anyone acknowledge that you had been in touch?
How often have you tried to lodge a complaint or make a comment about a product or service to a company and been unable to speak to a real person?
How often have you been unable to find a phone number or email address for the bureaucrat in charge of a non-profit service agency?
How often have you located a phone number or email address only to communicate into the void with no acknowledgement, even after having come to an agreement with the boss of the person you are trying to reach?
I can see the steam rising from your ears already, because I am sure that every one of you has had a similar experience.
Why does this happen?
Very often, the person responsible for reading the emails, answering the phone calls or taking action on an agreement made between the employer and an individual makes a personal decision to ignore the message – if they even read or listen to it, which often they don’t. Sometimes the employee ignores the instruction from their boss because in their “judgement”, it’s the wrong decision, or more often than not, they believe it intrudes on their jurisdiction. “I’m the marketing director, communications manager, administrator, whatever and the boss has no business making decisions in my bailiwick. It’s my budget!” goes the thinking as they wilfully disregard the order.
The boss is busy, assumes his order has been fulfilled and the employee gets away with his FU action. Boss never learns about the complaint so the problem goes unresolved resulting in a chipping away of confidence in the business or the individual’s credibility as a politician. As for non-profit bureaucrats, they often respond only to the powerful while putting much effort into convincing their board members that what they do operationally is none of the board’s business.
All these acts of defiance or sloth or willful disregard can be serious issues for the firm, politician or organization. Indeed, I have known politicians who lost elections because their staff members simply did not respond or follow up, leaving the boss to bear the blame.
Each of these scenarios is a theft of power from the person or persons in authority.
What to do about it?
All persons in authority should take a critical look at this issue and do some research into what is happening at their workplace. It is vital that refusal to communicate or to follow up on an instruction be recognized and remedied.
The importance of communication follow through should be emphasized with all employees and new hires. Consequences of non-compliance need to be explained.
Frank discussions should be held about the limits of the authority of any given position so that there is a clear understanding of the hierarchy and what is expected when an order is issued. The employees should be made to realize that while he or she may have a job to do, they are in limited possession of the facts. Their superior has a bigger picture to administer. Insubordination can be dangerous to that larger scenario.
Beyond this, though, is an issue of simple courtesy that needs to be passed on to the next generation. Ignoring a message is as rude, or ruder, than jostling someone out of line, casting a racial slur or belittling someone in front of others, actions that most today would say were unacceptable behaviours.
And for the frustrated person trying to get a message through? Don’t give up. If you are sending emails, copy the person in authority. That often dislodges the stonewalling. Go around the gatekeeper and when you finally get through to someone in charge, tell them what has been happening. I have gone to the extent of sending snail mail to individuals when I meet these kinds of communications blockades. You can often also send a direct, personal message to the individual you need to communicate with through Twitter or Facebook.
It’s a strange fact in the age of super communication that the art and imperativeness of communication is endangered. Let’s not take it lying down.
Dorothy Dobbie, Manitoba Post