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George Bernard Shaw said: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. This quote came to mind while I was contemplating the basic communication model which many of us learn about early in our careers.

If you are unfamiliar with it, do a quick Internet search and you will find two variants.

The first shows a unidirectional flow of information from a sender to a recipient. This model works well for those situations where a sender doesn’t particularly care if a recipient has received, understood, processed and acted upon the communication such as a mass broadcast.

However, in most circumstances, the second version of the model which includes communication back from the recipient is more helpful. At a minimum, this might be feedback on the content of the original message, but if that feedback will be delayed due to the recipient having to perform some action, an initial acknowledgement that the original message was received is expected.

So let me ask you a simple question. How often in the previous week in either personal or business contexts when you had sent a communication for which you were expecting feedback did you receive no acknowledgement of receipt?

If the communication medium used was e-mail, instant messaging, persistent chat or a phone call, back in the day we might have chalked it up to the recipient not being able to receive the original message in a timely manner. In these days of being actively connected 24×7, that dog don’t hunt.

I’d wager that this happened to you on more than one occasion.

How did that make you feel and what did you do about it?

If the stakes involved were low, you might have done nothing. Such situations might have fallen within the scope of the first model.

But what if the message was urgent or important? In such cases, depending on how patient you were, you might have performed the following steps:

  1. Waited for what you felt was a reasonable amount of time
  2. Became frustrated and either vented externally or seethed internally
  3. Followed up with the recipient using either the same communication medium or a different one

If after getting to step 3 there was still no response, you might have either repeated steps 2 and 3, escalated or given up.

If we analyze these activities through the lens of lean, none of these are value-add.

I referenced a similar scenario in my previous article about personal agility. But this is much more profound. It is about showing respect for others and the Golden Rule. I’m sure the recipient of your communication would expect to be granted the same consideration as you were expecting.

What cracks me up is that some of the worst offenders are those individuals who have boilerplate footers on their own e-mail messages such as “Please confirm receipt of this message“.

I guess this is a case of “do as I write, not as I do”.

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com  and on Amazon.ca  as well as a number of other online book stores)

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