11 Jul 2012

Sending the right message

Although it's obvious that face-to-face interactions lead to better communication and results, it's also obvious that such communication is more costly than "remote" emails, phone calls, and -- heavens forbid -- SMS messaging.

Remote communication can be useful when we are talking one-on-one, but it can be a disaster in a one-to-many format. I'm not talking about radio broadcasts or even blogging, but when a bureaucrat somewhere "sends a message" to citizens, users, or -- heaven forbid -- "stakeholders." The chances that this bureaucrat miscommunicates rise with his cultural, social and logistical distance from the listener. The chances that he fails to understand the magnitude of his miscommunicating (concluding, for example, that he's got the right idea) also rises with distance. Examples? How about "leaders" who direct wars from a distant office, state or national water ministers "governing" vast regions, or aid donors who have never visited the country they are "helping."

These failures are worse, of course, when remote controllers are de facto monopolists who will not lose their jobs for failure to listen to "customers" who have no alternative but to accept what they are given.

Bottom Line: Communication is about speaking AND being understood.

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