Joe’s Journal: On Effective Communication

“It is the recipient who communicates. Unless there is someone who hears, there is no communication. There is only noise. One can perceive only what one is capable of perceiving. One can communicate only in the recipients’ language or in their terms. And the terms have to be experience-based. We perceive, as a rule, what we expect to perceive. We see largely what we expect to see, and we hear largely what we expect to hear. The unexpected is usually not received at all. Communication always makes demands. It always demands that the recipient become somebody, do something, believe something. It always appeals to motivation. If it goes against her aspirations, her values, her motivations, it is likely not to be received at all or, at best, to be resisted.” — Peter F. Drucker

This passage is timely. That the recipient communicates is essential to the proper functioning of Peter Drucker’s philosophy of Management by Objectives (MBO). It is at the heart of Drucker’s proposal for the use of a “Manager’s Letter” whereby the recipient initiates communications about objectives; the relation of those objectives to the objectives of the higher unit; performance expectations; and potential hindrances anywhere in the organization to achieving those objectives. Once the superior responds to the recipient any differences in understanding can be ironed out.

Evidence seems to indicate that the generation that has come to maturity in the 21st century, sometimes referred to as the millennial generation, is very different from earlier generations. Effective communications will become more of a challenge when these intergenerational effects are encountered. Thus we should pay very close attention to the requirements in the Drucker passage in order to achieve effective communications.

The passage also illustrates the difference between information and knowledge. Knowledge occurs when we understand the information that is being transmitted; when we not only receive information but when we understand it well enough to act upon it. Communications is a vehicle for transmitting knowledge, but it is not knowledge itself. Knowledge can only be created between persons when they share common perceptions about the issue in question, and this requires that communications take place in the language of the recipient.

–Joe Maciariello