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When messages are misunderstood in the retelling

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

It’s not often a top manager apologises for their poor communication skills. But this is what Marcelo Bielsa did this week. The Argentinian apologised for not being able to communicate, “in the language everyone speaks”. He is quoted as saying ,”One of the biggest tools a manager has is to transmit his messages through words.” Judging from the person specifications for senior management posts most people would agree that excellent communication skills are essential for top management posts.

Bielsa like many managers whose first language is not English uses an interpreter and it occurs to me that most senior managers in most organisations rely on other people to get their message across. A good interpreter does not simply repeat what has been said word for word but explains what is meant without altering the message to reflex their own views. Likewise those in an organisation responsible for passing on messages from senior management must demonstrate the skills of a good interpreter.

All too often in organisations  managers pass on the messages by first saying, “ senior management have said or senior management have decided”. Meaning you’re not going to like what I say but don’t blame me I’m just the messenger and then proceed to give the message in such away as to almost guarantee it will not be well received. As a senior manager you can never be sure those passing on your message are saying what you intended , they may not be impartial, they could have an emotional involvement and be filtering  information.

The person passing on the message must be mindful of the audience they are addressing and adapt the message accordingly with out changing the meaning. They are expected to sell the message but simply by their tone they may convey that they don’t agree with it. Unlike  using an interpreter the senior manager is not present to answer questions on their message and must rely on the speaker to clarify and advocate which in my experience they often don’t do.

They say humour doesn’t translate nor does sarcasm  something senior managers would be wise to remember if they don’t want to have their message misunderstood in the retelling.

Often it is not the poor communication skills of senior managers that lead to their message being misunderstood or poorly received but the way the many “ interpreters “ within a large organisation presented it. Which in turn may not be due to a lack of skill on their part but a deliberate act of subtle sabotage.

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