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What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate, But That’s Not The Real Problem

game language
Phil Chu
Phil Chu
Making software since the 80s

“Apologies for any confusion,” was the official reply for Ubisoft’s boneheaded survey. This is a classic non-apology non-confession. It doesn’t admit to any mistake or wrongdoing and even hints it might be your fault for misunderstanding. After all, you are apparently easily confused.

“Miscommunication” is another one. It sounds better than “lying” or “didn’t bother to tell you” or “just wrong.” Like when the Mars Climate Orbiter crashed and burned on Mars (actually, the reverse) due to an English-metric unit mismatch, that was a miscommunication. Thanks for stating the obvious. But at least there’s an admission in there that someone miscommunicated.

“Lack of communication,” on the other hand, seems to say this is a partnership, and this could have been avoided if we just talked more. Keep in touch. Don’t be a stranger. Let’s have more meetings. Perhaps that three hour session of anecdotes from my boss would actually be helpful if it went on for another hour. Let’s skype. And we should listen to more cable TV news.

As a troubleshooting conclusion, it’s like pointing to a cadaver during a postmortem and citing “lack of breathing” as the problem. It’s likely not the fundamental issue, and in many cases, unreasonable to expect. And if you did get more communication, even of the honest nature, it might not be that helpful.

For example, people have differing agendas. No one’s going to say, “Yeah, I want something totally different than you, but here’s all the information that would be helpful to you and detrimental to me. Good luck!” Especially from those who believe advancement is a zero-sum game.

And then there’s incompetence. The problem with incompetence is no one realizes they’re incompetent. So you’re not going to get “Here’s all I know, and it’s probably wrong,” or “Keep checking with me, there’s probably something important I’m neglecting to tell you.”

People like to keep their options open. That’s one reason why decisions and projects are late and you’re eating dinner at work. It’s not that the decision wasn’t communicated. The decision wasn’t made.

Some people are just inconsiderate. Like those who don’t use their turn signals.

And then there’s full-blown narcissism. Or as I like to call it, why-can’t-everyone-read-my-mind. I had a boss who was constantly complaining her employees didn’t do what she wanted even when she hadn’t said what she wanted. Following up on that turn signal analogy, I had to follow her once while she was driving fast in her BMW while making sudden lane changes and turns without signalling.

Sometimes it’s not malice or gratuitous selfishness, just self-preservation. I had a coworker fail to report his lack of progress until nearly the project deadline (he still didn’t report it, the project manager finally figured it out). I would like to say that’s no the way to go, but he lasted longer in the company that way than I did.

And sometimes you figure, what’s the point? I had a boss state you should always report bad news, but that’s easy for her to say. I put that theory into action at my first job and discovered it’s a good way to shorten your job tenure. Not that I got kicked out — just when you lay out all your complaints and it’s clear no one wants to hear them, everyone’s ready to part ways that much sooner. There’s probably a dating analogy in there.

So next time I hear it was a “lack of communication,” well, thanks for the communication. It was really helpful.