6 lame excuses for not communicating

Why many organizations don’t make communication a priority—and what you can do to combat the problem.

In 25 years I’ve heard every excuse there is for not making communication a priority in an organization. And I’ve heard them from every source: indifferent leaders, risk-averse lawyers, sluggish communication departments—you name it.

Here are some of the most common excuses. You’ve probably come across these in your own organization. Maybe you’ve even used them yourself a time or two. Here’s why they don’t hold water and how you can overcome them.

We can make it better

Do documents and publications in your company routinely get caught in a perpetual churn cycle, where people offer endless edits that add little in the way of real value?

That may be the sign of a dysfunctional organization. After all, if people are fussing over every detail of a speech or Web page for weeks or even months, how are they handling the really big decisions?

These so-called perfectionists mistake changes for improvements and activity for action. They missed the lesson on the 80/20 rule.

So, tighten the review circle, identify the bottlenecks, and cut them out of the process. Enlist a high-level ally if necessary. Enforce quick deadlines, demand fast turnaround on approvals, and use the old, “If we don’t hear from you by [x date/time], we’ll assume it’s OK to go forward.”

We don’t have all the information

When do we ever enjoy the luxury of having all the necessary facts at hand? Even in an age where the information spigot is wide open and always gushing data, it’s a rarity.

So don’t bother waiting. Come to terms with the fact that just about anything you communicate these days is out of date the instant you say it, send it, or post it. The best you can do is tell people what you know, when you know it, and promise to get them the rest of the information as soon as you get it.

Silence is not a good alternative. Like nature, gossip abhors a vacuum.

The lawyers won’t let us

Let me share a secret: A lawyer’s words are an opinion. It may be a well-informed opinion. Or not. Either way, it’s that one lawyer’s view based on his or her interpretation of the facts and the law—and his or her personal tolerance for risk.

Some lawyers are more conservative than others. Some have been burned badly by loose-lipped PR people. Some are just too busy to deal with it. Some are absolutely correct.

But you’ll never know unless you push them a little. Sit down and negotiate. Start from the perspective of “what can we say” instead of “what can’t we say.” Don’t accept “no comment” for an answer.

They’ll ask a question we can’t answer

So? Get over the fear of being labeled uninformed or out of the loop just because you can’t answer a question. Nobody is expected to know everything, and those who try create nothing but aggravation for themselves and those around them.

Here’s a simple answer for any situation in which you’re unsure: “I don’t know.” Deliver it without apology or shame, and people will admire your self-confidence. What a delightful contrast to those who regularly demonstrate that they, too, don’t know—only with 20 times the words.

Of course, “I don’t know,” should be followed quickly by, “But I’ll find out and get back to you.”

They’ve already been told

Have they really? How and by whom? And if they have been told, do they understand? Don’t assume.

We all know that a message requires lots of impressions before it sticks, but many leaders need to be reminded of this fact. People often have a blind spot when it comes to their own communications. They can’t bear the thought that people aren’t hanging on their every word.

So, one email or presentation or Web posting won’t cut it. It has to come through multiple channels and sources. Worried about sounding repetitive or people getting bored? Honestly, we should be so lucky to get that level of attention!

It’s important to over-communicate, because people tend to under-listen.

We don’t have time

Lack of time, of course, is the mother of all excuses, and it’s certainly not exclusive to communication. The fact is we make time for the things that are important. If someone isn’t taking the time to communicate, they don’t consider it a priority.

Or as Lao Tzu, the ancient father of Taoism, put it: “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.'”

Make the time to communicate. And don’t let fears, assumptions—or lawyers—get in the way.

Rob Biesenbach is a Chicago-based communications consultant, actor and author of the book ACT LIKE YOU MEAN BUSINESS: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen, published by Brigantine Media.

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