Remove the Communication Quills
That Slowly Kill Your Organization
By Roger Hall
the best days, in many companies internal communications are
suffering. People work in silos and are isolated from other
departments. As a result, miscommunication is the norm, which
creates suspicion between departments and resentment among
co-workers. It’s a prickly situation that can quickly flat line
profits and kill morale.
matters worse, no matter how small or insignificant the
miscommunication problem might be, it can eventually poison the
entire company. Think of the problem as a porcupine quill—a small
yet potentially lethal object. If a porcupine quill is not properly
removed from the skin, it can move two inches deeper each day. Worse
yet, a piece can break off, creating a fistula—the result of a
broken quill traveling to unsuspecting parts of the body. This can
cause major damage to vital organs, and even death.
Festering wounds within organizations can result in similar
“infections” if left untreated. In other words, just because things
look good in R&D doesn’t mean the accounting department isn’t
feeling a pinch. Communications challenges quickly spread and lead
to other, sometimes more serious, internal issues.
is communications within companies so appalling? Quite simply, most
people are stellar at their particular discipline (i.e. accounting,
IT, marketing, etc.), but they lack the necessary people skills and
the ability to manage others. Additionally, many employees report
that their managers don’t pass on information they get from the
executives. Either the information flow stops at the management
level or the information is filtered down to the point that it’s
meaningless. And when employees feel uninformed, they’ll fish out
information on their own, even if it comes from unreliable sources.
wild, porcupines eat bark from tree trunks, especially near the
base, thereby killing the trees. In business, if internal
communication isn’t in place, a company’s foundation is in peril.
Eventually, with enough employees gnawing at the foundation, the
company will topple. To keep this from happening within your own
organization, consider the following steps.
Address the problem: The first step to removing the quills from
your company is to address the problem you have. This means actually
sitting down and talking face-to-face with the other employee or
department head. E-mail communication, which certainly has its place
in business, should not be used for this step. You need to actually
talk with someone, no matter how anxious this might make you. As you
do so, remember that everyone interprets the same problems and
opportunities differently, depending on job responsibilities.
Therefore, approach the conversation as an advice session, as in, “I
know I aggravate you when I do ________. How can we overcome this
situation?” Get some ideas on what the other person is thinking.
Listen intently to their words and observe their non-verbal
language. When people feel listened to and respected, they’ll be
more willing to work with you toward a solution.
Tell the truth: As you talk with the other person, talk straight
and honestly. Eliminate half-truths and “spin” from the
conversation. Forget about excuses and admit any fault you may have
in the problem. A simple, “I screwed up,” goes a long way. Explain
how the problem affects your attitude and work performance, as well
as that of your department. Promote two-way communication by asking
open-ended questions, as in, “What do you suggest?” “How do you
think we should proceed?” and “What do you propose our next steps
should be?” The more truthful you are in your communication, the
more honest feedback you’ll receive. Only then can you arrive at a
Identify the true origin of the problem: Now that you have
cleared the air and have some new insight from the other person, you
need to do a little digging to get to the root of the problem.
What’s really causing this problem to occur? Is there a flawed or
missing procedure? Is another party unknowingly involved? Is a
technological glitch part of the equation? This digging may take
some time to unearth the real problem, but it’s definitely worth it.
Remember that you can’t play the blame game—someone or something is
at the root of the problem, and it’s up to you to discover it. The
sooner you find out what it is, the sooner you can resolve whatever
issues plague your organization.
Take steps to solve the real problem: Once you know the true
source of your angst, you need to deal with it head on. Simply
knowing the problem won’t make it go away. You have to take action
to resolve the issue and keep it from recurring. With the other
person you’ve just cleared the air with, go to the source of the
problem that you’ve uncovered. Confront that person or department in
the same productive way: Be direct and honest and explain the
situation as you see it. Ask how the source can help you resolve the
problem. Perhaps it’s a simple matter of rewriting a policy so it’s
less confusing, or maybe it’s a bit more complicated and requires
some new technology. Whatever the case, inform the source of what
you’ve uncovered and work together to eliminate the problem once and
for all. Yes, this step takes courage, especially if the source of
the problem is a supervisor or executive, but doing it will enable
you to remove the quills that are paralyzing your company.
the Porcupines Away: Removing the quills from your company can
be painful process, but it’s certainly no more painful than watching
the organization crumble. That’s why you need to display courage and
take the first step to bridging whatever communication gaps exist in
your company. But realize that this isn’t a one-time fix. Just like
a porcupine, your company’s quills can grow back at any time. That
means your internal communications process must be perpetual in
order to succeed. So keep the open and honest communication going at
all times, and always remember to dig deep to uncover the true
challenge that’s holding you back. When you do, your employees and
co-workers will foster better relationships, which will lead to
increased productivity and profits for years to come.
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