When Communicating More Is Less

I love learning a new language because it affords me an opportunity to examine my assumptions about what I say, why I say it, and what it actually means. Oftentimes, I can find a way to translate what I’m thinking into another language, but just as often that translation ‘doesn’t quite work’ and I find myself grasping for words that dance around my intended meaning, but don’t quite hit the mark. This can be extremely frustrating, even more so when we’re trying to get things done in business and in life.

I’m not a professional linguist, but I do study intercultural communication as an access to unlocking the people potential in organizations. Often, I’m not necessarily talking about bilingual environments. I have to remind my clients that just because they’re speaking a common language doesn’t mean that their people understand what they’re saying. When managers don’t get the response or result they want, the often default to more of the same message. But often communicating more actually decreases the effectiveness of the communication.


Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  1. ‘Checking in’ on the project to the point of micromanaging
  2. You’re people don’t believe the level of detail and transparency you want into a key project, so you find yourself consistently surprised at what they don’t tell you.

Do you see two sides of the same coin there? How about this example:

  1. Inconsistency between stated and actual timelines creates challenges on how to prioritize the workload.
  2. You have to adapt to yet another unpredicted change in the greater environment or context so you go back to your team with new expectations.

Each of the examples above presents two different perspectives on the same situation. It feels like those involved might be a bit between a rock and a hard place, eh? The fact is every situation has these multiple angles, and it’s a lot of work to communicate the broader context at play. So we default to the easy, command-and-control style of communication: do this and do that and it’ll all be OK, just don’t ask questions.

The results are less than satisfactory. When a manager or project lead gives more direction without putting thought into conveying the ‘Why’ behind their message, anyone involved can get:

  • Disgruntled
  • Passive (aggressive)
  • Withdrawn
  • De-motivated


You have the power to change that! The best advice I’ve ever received in the realm of executive coaching was to design your message to be clear and succinct. Leave no one wondering your true intentions, and be tactful. People appreciate knowing where you stand, especially if they are working to hit one of your goals or targets.

But this only works when you heighten the level of your communication to talk about the context or intention or vision behind what you’re doing. Give people a chance to share your dream for how great it could be.

This will probably cause you pause the first time you really apply it. Have you thought about the potential impact of your words before they come out of your mouth? Have you given your people a chance to see what you see before you lay on another directive? Will your words accelerate your team towards an effective solution or are they already working towards the goal at a good pace? Do you really need to intervene at all?

You have the opportunity to set colleagues and co-workers up for success by thinking about how your message expands their understanding of the world you see. People are willing participants when they share your dream. Just try not to degrade your message with lots of extra words which don’t actually contribute to a broader understanding of the work at hand.

Master the art of enrolling others in your dream rather than trying to ‘say it another way’ to unlock the true potential of your team.

Confucius Consulting unleashes the leadership potential in your people so teams can thrive. To learn more about our services, click here. To discuss how we can support you, your organization, and teams, contact us today!