“Why don’t THEY communicate better?” is Just More Blame

IMG_4549I bet the maker of this Rice Lake, Minnesota sign was not really saying, “Enjoy your visit to our Port-a-John in the woods!”

But that’s what the sign said to me when I read it.

That doesn’t make me dumb. Nor does it make the sign’s author stupid.

We simply were not communicating.

Communication—it’s a problem … everywhere.

This scene has played out many times in my 29 years of training:

When I ask, “What’s the biggest problem facing your organization today?” the answer usually is … communication! Yet the problem is often framed as an Incorrect Question (IQ/QBQ! tutorial) such as, “Why don’t they communicate better?”

As if lousy or no communication is … someone else’s fault!? Can you imagine engaging in blame like that!? 🙂

Everything would be so much better if each of us practiced personal accountability for making communication happen. It begins with me asking The Question Behind the Question (QBQ).

QBQs like these:

“What can I do to become a more effective listener?”

“How can I better understand others?”

“What will I do today to learn new communication skills?”

If you believe taking ownership for making communication happen is a better path than pointing fingers, one skill to develop is that of asking questions when attempting to communicate. Here are 10:

  1. If I confuse you, would you please interrupt me?
  2. What did you hear me say?
  3. Would you please share what you think I meant to say?
  4. Are there words I use that don’t work for you?
  5. What emotions do you experience when I share with you?
  6. Would there be a better time or setting for us to do this?
  7. Is there a more effective way for us to communicate?
  8. What is there in my body language that might distract from what I say?
  9. Is there anything I do when you’re talking to cause you to feel I’m not listening?
  10. What have you wanted to say to me but have not?

These questions make the difference. No communication happens when we’re yakking at someone. Only when we’re yakking with someone. Which, of course, is called … conversation.

Another example of a serious lack of COMMUNICATION!

“Conversation” defined: The exchange of ideas and information through spoken words.

The key word is … exchange.

Pontificating, lecturing, admonishing, rebuking, mocking, instructing, reprimanding, speechifying, shaming, telling, and yelling are not conversation.

Hence, they are not communication.

Many executives, managers, colleagues, friends, siblings, coaches, teachers, and parents have tried these ineffective—and damaging—approaches.

I know I have.

Have you?

Is there a message you’ve been trying to get across to a person or group, but it just isn’t happening? If so, go back today armed with the 10 questions above and an accountable attitude and begin the conversation.

Then let us at QBQ, Inc. know how it goes … I want to make sure that I have communicated.

Share a time you thought you had communicated, but later discovered you had not.
Or, describe a situation when you misunderstood someone else.
Comment below! 
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12 Responses

  1. Maybe they did want you to enjoy your visit to their restrooms–maybe they were brand new and proud of them. Or, maybe the signmaker was being a wise guy.
    I once saw a speed limit sign that said, “Speed limit 54.4 MPH.” It was a deliberate attempt to catch the driver’s attention, not to create a speed trap.
    So, just because a sign may appear unconventional may not mean there was no thought behind it.

  2. That group of 10 questions might be one of the most powerful things I’ve read this year. I’ll definitely keep those handy in Evernote. I think they would be great to refer to when I’m talking with my 21 year old son, whom I seem to have many arguments with. I think part of the problem is that I’ve presented my fatherly advice and expectations AT him over the years. So now when I talk, he maybe just hears nagging. These would be great to ask him, maybe one question per day.

  3. Bought the QBQ! on on Saturday – what an excellent read!

    I shared with my folks at Waste Management (39 proud years, I gave ’em) and discovered that the book is standard reading for all incoming sales folks.

    Wow, wish you had written it in the ’70’s…….never too late to learn, though.

    Onward and Upward!

  4. Hi. I find that it’s very difficult to communicate in a group setting. That’s why I prefer one-to-one.

  5. In my haste to share information and not stepping back to ask myself “What do you really want to say?” I have led people to ask me that very question. Recently, I sent an email requesting feedback on a workshop I had put on that covered email communications. In my haste, I sent it with a couple errors. I will take the time to ask the questions to make sure I am communicating so that others understand.

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