Description of Communication Strategies

These "communication strategies" are communication behaviors done either consciously or unconsciously to avoid the discomfort of dealing with a complex or difficult problem. These behaviors can be interrelated, and can impede effective progress on a project. For example, "denying the problem" can take the form of "quick fixes" if it is assumed that a problem does not actually exist and a quick fix will satisfy those who are asking for change. These behaviors can include:

  • Criticizing leaders - Finding fault with leaders (e.g., group leaders, project directors, people in charge at different levels of government or business/industry, or blaming others for problems, rather than looking at the ways responsibility is shared in dealing locally with a complex situation.
  • Externalizing the enemy - Placing the blame for a problem or mistake on an outside group or individual.
  • Scapegoating - Placing the blame for a problem or mistake on an individual or group, especially one with little power.
  • Holding on to past assumptions - Clinging to old assumptions without proof of the validity of these assumptions.
  • Creating new assumptions - Deciding something is true, with no proof of its validity.
  • Denying the problem - Refusing to see a problem or to acknowledge a problem exists.
  • Jumping to conclusions - Forming an opinion or judgment in haste, without considering all issues involved.
  • Finding a distracting issue - Substituting an issue of lesser importance, or pursuing an unrelated goal, for the purpose of drawing attention away from the issue being discussed. [Meeting participants may be creating a distracting issue by suddenly taking the main subject of discussion off the table, or by shifting the focus from the main issue to the symptoms of stress caused by the main issue.]
  • Following standard operating procedures - Following established procedures even when they are not appropriate to the issue under discussion. This strategy is sometimes used to avoid designing new, more applicable approaches to the problem.
  • Distancing - Sitting back and watching two group members engage in an angry exchange that diverts attention from the issues under discussion. Distancing can diminish a sense of shared responsibility.
  • "Good news" leaders - Soothing followers by shifting the focus from tough issues to less challenging ones. These leaders avoid mobilizing people to tackle difficult issues. [This is done most often when people suspect that progress on crucial problems will require tough adjustments on their part.]
  • Applying "quick fixes" - Substituting a simple solution to avoid examining the complexities of an issue. [One indication of a quick fix is that a sudden drop occurs in the level of stress associated with an issue.]