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Executive responsibilities: communication

Mental patterns define the limits of communication possibilities.




Basic communications are covered in Peter Drucker's work.

Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (chapter 38) and Management, Revised Edition (chapter 30) contain chapters devoted to communications. These two chapter are not identical. Below is the introduction to chapter 30.

We have more attempts at communications today than ever before, that is, more attempts to talk to others, and a surfeit of communications media than were imaginable to the men who, around the time of World War I, started to work on the problems of communicating in organizations.

Communications in management has become a central concern to students and practitioners in all institutions—business, the military, public administration, hospital, university, and research.

In no other area have intelligent men and women worked harder or with greater dedication than psychologists, human relations experts, managers, and management students have worked on improving communications in our major institutions.

Yet communications has proven as elusive as the unicorn.

The noise level has gone up so fast that no one can really listen anymore to all that babble about communications.

But there is clearly less and less communicating.

In Plato’s Phaedo, which, among other things, is the earliest extant treatise on rhetoric, Socrates points out that one has to talk to people in terms of their own experience, that is, one has to use carpenters’ metaphors when talking to carpenters, and so on.

One can communicate only in the recipient’s language or in his terms.

And the terms have to be experience-based.

It, therefore, does very little good to try to explain terms to people.

They will not be able to receive them if they are not terms of their own experience.

They simply exceed their perception capacity.

In communicating, whatever the medium, the first question has to be, “Is this communication within the recipient’s range of perception?

Can he or she receive it?”

The human mind attempts to fit impressions and stimulations into a frame of expectations.

It resists vigorously any attempts to make it “change its mind,” that is, to perceive what it does not expect to perceive or not perceive what it expects to perceive.

It is, of course, possible to alert the human mind to the fact that what it perceives is contrary to its expectations.

But this first requires that we understand what it expects to perceive.

It then requires that there be an unmistakable signal—"this is different”—that is, a shock that breaks continuity.

Before we can communicate, we must, therefore, know what the recipient expects to see and hear.

Only then can we know whether communication can utilize her expectations—and what they are—or whether there is need for the “shock of alienation,” for an “awakening” that breaks through the recipient’s expectations and forces her to realize that the unexpected is happening.

If communication fits in with the aspirations, values, and purposes of the recipient, it is powerful.

If it goes against them, it is likely not to be received at all.

At its most powerful, communication brings about “conversion,” that is, a change of personality, values, beliefs, and aspirations.

But this is the rare event, and one against which the basic psychological forces of every human being are strongly organized.

Even the Lord, the Bible reports, first had to strike Saul blind before he could raise him up as Paul.

By and large, therefore, there is no communication unless the message can key into the recipient’s own values.

Information presupposes communication.

Information is always encoded.

To be received, let alone to be used, the code must be known and understood by the recipient.

This requires prior agreement, that is, some communication.

Communications, in other words, may not be dependent on information.

Indeed, the most perfect communications may be purely “shared experiences,” without any logic whatever.

Perception has primacy rather than information.

From Analysis to Perception — The New Worldview

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Downward and Upward

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But listening is only the starting point.

More and better information does not solve the communications problem, does not bridge the communications gap.

On the contrary, the more information, the greater is the need for functioning and effective communication.

The more information, in other words, the greater is the communications gap likely to be.

Management by Objectives

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Management by objectives gives to the intended recipient of communication in this case, the subordinate—access to experience that enables him to understand

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But he may gain an understanding of the complexity of the superior's situation and of the fact that the complexity is not of the superior's making, but is inherent in the situation itself.

These are only examples, and rather insignificant ones at that.

But perhaps they illustrate the main conclusion to which our experience with communications largely an experience of failure—and all the work on learning, memory, perception, and motivation point: communication requires shared experience.

There can be no communication if it is conceived of as going from the “I” to the “Thou.”

Communication works only from one member of “us” to another.

Communication in organization—and this may be the true lesson of our communication failure and the true measure of our communication need—is not a means (something that helps gain an end) of organization.

It is the mode (manner of doing or being) of organization.




The concepts in the Drucker chapters above are very, very different from those presented in books like: How To Talk To Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, Talk Less, Say More, How To Have A Beautiful Mind, How to Win Friends & Influence People and other outward directed works.




Chapter 45 “Managing Oneself” in Management, Revised Edition also contains a discussion on communications from an individual’s standpoint.

Relationship Responsibility

Very few people work by themselves and achieve results by themselves—a few great artists, a few great scientists, a few great athletes.

Most people work with other people and are effective through other people.

That is true whether they are members of an organization or legally independent.

To manage oneself, therefore, requires taking relationship responsibility.

There are two parts to it.

Accepting that other people are as much individuals as one is oneself

The first one is to accept the fact that other people are as much individuals as one is oneself.

They insist on behaving like human beings.

This means that they, too, have their strengths.

It means that they, too, have their ways of getting things done.

It means that they, too, have their values.

To be effective, one therefore has to know the strengths, the performance modes, and the values of the people one works with.

This sounds obvious.

But too few people pay attention to it.

Typical are people who, in their first assignment, worked for a man who is a reader.

They, therefore, were trained in writing reports.

Their next boss is a listener.

But these people keep on writing reports to the new boss—the way President Johnson’s assistants kept on writing reports to him because Jack Kennedy, who had hired them, had been a reader.

Invariably, these people have no results.

Invariably, their new boss thinks they are stupid, incompetent, and lazy.

They become failures.

All that would have been needed to avoid this would have been to take one look at the boss and ask the question, “How does he or she perform?”

Bosses are not a title on the organization chart or a “function.”

They are individuals and entitled to do the work the way they do it.

And it is incumbent on the people who work with them to observe them, to find out how they work, and to adapt themselves to the way the bosses are effective (a full discussion of managing the boss is contained, next, in chapter 46).

There are bosses, for instance, who have to see the figures first—Alfred Sloan at General Motors was one of them.

He himself was not a financial person but an engineer with strong marketing instincts.

But as an engineer, he had been trained to look first at figures.

Three of the ablest younger executives in General Motors did not make it into the top ranks because they did not look at Sloan—they did not realize that there was no point in writing to him or talking to him until he had first spent time with the figures.

They went in and presented their reports.

Then they left the figures.

But by that time they had lost Sloan.

As said before, readers are unlikely ever to become listeners, and listeners are unlikely ever to become readers.

But everyone can learn to make a decent oral presentation or to write a decent report.

It is simply the duty of the subordinate to enable the boss to do his or her work.

And that requires looking at the boss and asking, “What are his or her strengths?

How does he or she do the work and perform?

What are his or her values?”

One does the same with all the people one works with.

Each of them works his or her way and not my way.

And each of them is entitled to work in his or her way.

What matters is whether they perform, and what their values are.

How they perform—each is likely to do it differently.

The first secret of effectiveness is to understand the people with whom one works and on whom one depends, and to make use of their strengths, their ways of working, and their values.

For working relations are as much based on the person as they are based on the work.

Take responsibility for communications

The second thing to do to manage oneself and to become effective is to take responsibility for communications.

After people have thought through what their strengths are, how they perform, what their values are, and, especially, what their contribution should be, they then have to ask, Who needs to know this?

On whom do I depend?

And who depends on me?”

And then one goes and tells all these people—and tells them in the way in which they receive a message, that is, in a memo if they are readers, or by talking to them if they are listeners, and so on.

Most of the “personality conflicts” in organizations arise from the fact that one person does not know what the other person does, or does not know how the other person does his or her work, or does not know what contribution the other person concentrates on and what results he or she expects.

And the reason that they do not know is that they do not ask and, therefore, are not being told.

This reflects human stupidity less than it reflects human history.

It was unnecessary until very recently to tell any of these things to anybody.

Everybody in a district of the medieval city plied the same trade—there was a street of goldsmiths and a street of shoemakers and a street of armorers.

One goldsmith knew exactly what every other goldsmith was doing; one shoemaker knew exactly what every other shoemaker was doing; one armorer knew exactly what every other armorer was doing.

There was no need to explain anything.

The same was true on the land, where everybody in a valley planted the same crop as soon as the frost was out of the ground.

There was no need to tell one’s neighbor that one was going to plant potatoes—that, after all, was exactly what the neighbor did too, and at the same time.

And those few people who did things that were not “common,” the few professionals, for instance, worked alone, and also did not have to tell anybody what they were doing.

Today the great majority of people work with others who do different things.

The marketing vice president may have come out of sales and know everything about sales.

But she knows nothing about promotion and pricing and advertising and packaging and sales planning, and so on—she has never done any of these things.

Those who work under her must make sure that the marketing vice president understands what they are trying to do, why they are trying to do it, how they are going to do it, and what results to expect.

If the marketing vice president does not understand what these high-grade knowledge specialists are doing, it is primarily their fault, and not that of the marketing vice president.

They have not told her.

They have not educated her.

Conversely, it is the marketing vice president’s responsibility to make sure that every one of the people she works with understands how she looks on marketing, what her goals are, how she works, and what she expects of herself and of every one of them.

Even people who understand the importance of relationship responsibility often do not tell their associates and do not ask them.

They are afraid of being thought presumptuous, inquisitive, or stupid.

They are wrong.

Whenever anyone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at.

This is how I work.

These are my values.

This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful.

But why haven’t you told me earlier?”

And one gets the same reaction if one then asks, “And what do I need to know about your strengths, how you perform, your values, and your proposed contribution?”

In fact, a knowledge worker should request of people with whom he or she works—whether as subordinates, superiors, colleagues, team members—that they adjust their behavior to the knowledge worker’s strengths and to the way the knowledge worker works.

Readers should request that their associates write to them, listeners should request that their associates first talk to them, and so on.

And again, whenever that is done, the reaction of the other person will be, “Thanks for telling me.

It’s enormously helpful.

But why didn’t you ask me earlier?”

Organizations are no longer built on force.

They are increasingly built on trust.

Trust does not mean that people like one another.

It means that people can trust one another.

And this presupposes that people understand one another.

The logic bubble

bubble man

Taking relationship responsibility is therefore an absolute necessity.

It is a duty.

Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier to it, a distributor, one owes relationship responsibility to everyone with whom one works, on whose work one depends, and who, in turn, depends on one’s own work.

List of topics in this Folder


“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. — Peter Drucker

The shift from manual workers who do as they are being told — either by the task or by the boss — to knowledge workers who have to manage themselves ↓ profoundly challenges social structure

Managing Oneself (PDF) is a REVOLUTION in human affairs.” … “It also requires an almost 180-degree change in the knowledge workers’ thoughts and actions from what most of us—even of the younger generation—still take for granted as the way to think and the way to act.” …

… “Managing Oneself is based on the very opposite realities: Workers are likely to outlive organizations (and therefore, employers can’t be depended on for designing your life), and the knowledge worker has mobility.” ← in a context




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