Whenever we start working with an organisation, we conduct an exercise with the relevant team members looking at what is really important to them in order for them to be both productive and motivated at work.

Without fail, there is a universal cry for better communication in the company, which is often swiftly followed by the resultant frustration from senior management, who feel that they have made every feasible effort to improve their communication and yet they are not being heard!

They have instigated newsletters, staff team building days, sent information emails, utilised high tech digital communication solutions, have company meetings, the list often goes on and on.

So why is their communication not being heard?

Six key reasons why communication isn’t heard

1. Too much talking at people rather than talking to them

There is a mistaken belief that effective communication in business is about getting your message across. In fact, it needs to be more about listening to your people, asking them the questions that get under the layers, stepping into their shoes and then painting a picture in a way that they will both understand and connect with. People need to see that you are making an effort to understand their concerns by actually asking them and then engaging them in a two-way conversation.

2. Value misalignment

John Meyer and Natalie Allen developed their ‘Three Component Model of Commitment’ and published it in the 1991 “Human Resource Management Review.” The model explains that commitment to an organization is a psychological state, and that it has three distinct components that affect how employees feel about the organization that they work for.

The three components are:

  • Affection for your job (“affective commitment”) – a strong emotional attachment to the job and/or organisation. You will likely share the company values and goals and genuinely want to be there.
  • Fear of loss (“continuance commitment”) – where the fear of leaving or being asked to leave outweighs any negative component of working for the organisation.
  • Sense of obligation to stay (“normative commitment”) – an obligation to stay even if you are unhappy or want to pursue other opportunities because it is ‘the right thing to do’

Affective commitment is more likely to increase if staff experience positive emotions at work. To encourage positive change it is important that you link people’s goals and values with those of the team or organisation. Your workplace values are the guiding principles that are most important to you about the way that you work. You will continuously use these values as a basis for choosing between right and wrong ways of working and making important decisions.

When values are out of alignment, you may find that people work towards different goals, have different intentions and different required outcomes. This can damage effective team dynamics, working relationships, productivity, creative problem solving and job satisfaction.

3. The mistaken belief that everyone hears and understands in the same way

Every piece of information that hits our senses is filtered in order for us to make conscious sense of the information and create a conscious thought or opinion about it. This filtering is based on, and affected by, a number of things including:

  • What we believe about a situation
  • What has happened in the past
  • What is important to us in that moment
  • Our emotional state
  • Our physical state
  • The way in which we are motivated
  • Our previous decisions relating to the subject
  • Our own representational preferences

If something isn’t important to us, then we may delete it. If we believe strongly about something, we may distort any information that may run the risk of altering our view or, alternatively, we will only be looking for the information that supports our point of view.

If we expect something to happen because it has in the past, then we may be reluctant to believe that this time it will be different and so we unconsciously distort what we are being told. If we have an emotional attachment to something, then that will affect how we filter the information.

Also, as mentioned above, we all have different representation preferences that become more apparent in different situations. Some of us lead with emotion, others with logic, others with a need to get a clear picture and some with the desire for it to sound right to us. So imagine that you are talking to a group of people about the logic of a change in your organisation. Some of the group will understand what you are saying and potentially accept it. Others, however, will be concerned about how the change will affect them and the impact it will have, some need clarity on what the end result will be and for you to paint a picture for them and some will need to keep playing it over until it resonates with them.

4. The presumption that everyone wants the same thing

It’s very tempting to think that everyone thinks the same way as us, isn’t it? If you are motivated in a certain way then surely everyone is? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, that is not the case. We all run different and multiple Metaprograms.

Metaprograms are our inputting, sorting and filtering preferences. They guide and direct our thought process and behaviour. They are the programs, which guide and direct other processes (hence the “Meta”) and make our perception and experience what it is.

An example of a motivation Metaprogram is whether you are more motivated by goals and targets (towards) or more about solving the problem or moving away from the current problem state (away from). For example, imagine you have two employees, one towards motivated and one away from motivated. If you try to motivate the towards employee with threats of punishment they may become resentful and resistant. On the other hand, trying to motivate an away from employee with bonuses is usually wasted. They are more concerned with things like job security. In the same way an ‘away from’ motivated individual will be less likely to see the need for change unless they really recognise that there is currently a problem and a ‘towards’ motivated individual will be looking for an achievement that they can impact.

Understanding our own Metaprograms means that we can learn what affects how we present ourselves and when we understand what we, and others, are doing we can begin to understand how we get the results that we do.

Understanding the Metaprograms going on with our team members makes management and leadership a lot easier as you can adapt your language and actions to suit!

5. The message gets diluted by the desire to be politically correct or includes too much ‘corporate speak’

People will trust you if they can count on you to tell the truth, even when doing so is hard.

This includes telling the truth about yourself, or about any mistakes you’ve made. Your people will value this level of honesty, and will likely reciprocate.

People also want to connect with your passion behind a change and want to see you put that passion over. They want to be inspired and to do that they need to see you as authentic.

In contrast, people can see through a message that has gone through the ‘corporate filter’ and won’t connect with it. People will not buy into something when their opinions and thoughts on the matter were not sought and, if they feel they have not been heard, they may not support a decision, no matter how feasible it is.

6. Sloping shoulders syndrome

This is when communication is seen as a task that can be ticked off of the ‘to-do’ list and therefore the responsibility for the impact of the communication is lost. Our reliance on emails systems is often a symptom of this with the instigator of the communication able to quickly send an email off to the team and feel satisfied that they have ‘done their bit’ and told everyone what they need to know.

How many of the above have you seen in your organisation?

Chances are you will also recognise some of these!


Always happy to chat about your communication challenges, just drop me a message and we’ll take it from there!