How badly are others “filtering” your messages on their way up or down? How adept are you at playing this form of corporate politics?
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How often have you “sent” a message and found that upon receipt its content was quite different? Why? Because it had been “filtered”. To suit the agenda of intermediaries.
We’ve all played the game of “Chinese Whispers”, right? Isn’t it amazing how “a message can be distorted by being passed around in a whisper“. And in that case the content is quite innocently and quite unwittingly distorted.
That’s very different in corporate life, isn’t it?
Message Filtering: Innocent & Naïve?
Of course there are cases where misunderstandings can lead to quite innocent and unwitting misrepresentations of the original messages intent. Where assumptions prevail. Where suitable clarification or verification isn’t sought.
In my blog Enhancing Communication With The Power of Playing Back I share how we can prevent this occurring. It emphasizes how easily the “sender” can ask the intended “receiver” of the message to play back their understanding of it. So both parties are assured that the recipient “get’s it” before moving on.
This is particularly relevant in delegating and also valuable in eliminating risk of distortion when different languages or dialects prevail. Or when different cultures come together.
We cannot be too careful about this. Particularly when stakes are high and the risk of such misunderstandings are linguistically or culturally more probable.
Message Filtering: Deliberate Practice
However, it is very common how often message filtering can be quite deliberately practiced.
A superb leadership practice I experienced in my years at SAB Miller was what they called “The Small Group Brief”. The policy was that after each executive committee meeting, the agreed content considered important to be cascaded “down the organisation” had to reach the lowest shop floor level designated roles no later than one week later. Every leader of any team or function or department, no matter big or small had to ensure this information was cascaded down the levels. Accurately and in time.
And it offered the opportunity for relevant messages to be “sent back up the line” as well.
Of course the cynics would have pointed out already that the decision by the executive committee as to what was and wasn’t to be cascaded was an act of filtering. Yes, that’s right. But that’s another strategic business management story, with lots of governance aspects attached.
And of course in cascading this information the aformentioned filtering started. Leaders and managers would conveniently “forget” to pass certain information along. Or carefully “massage” it. Sometimes content can also be influenced in “how” it is delivered. Why? Because the original message could potentially interfere, even undermine certain personal agendas they or their role needed to protect.
And so the fun begins.
Message Filtering At Work
We all know how rife such message filtering practises are. We’ve all fallen victim to their intent, haven’t we? But lets be clear, that there is hardly anyone that doesn’t use this at some point, right?
This is what “influencing” is all about. We learn to play all or most of the “keys on our communications and behaviour piano“. The politics of influence is alive and well. And we would ignore its prevalence at the peril of our corporate success.
My blog Gossip explores how we can quite successfully leverage this as a technique in our influencing and most positively at that.
It is part of the corporate game. And to win in any game, we need an intimate understanding of the rules. So that we can play the game “at it’s limits”, where we sometimes have to cross the “edge” (Finding The Edge) to find it.
I’m not advocating that we “cheat”. And I’m not advocating to “win at all cost”. But the corporate business “winning game” is a tough game. Not for the feint hearted. And to play it and win in it, we need to develop an acute awareness of human behaviour. So that we can play both protective politics as well as “exploratory politics”.
But in my book the game is surely to be played with integrity. And so finding this fine line has been the subject of much conjecture for centuries.
Managing Message Filtering Through Corroboration
I coach people on how to successfully play this influencing game. You can read a bit more about that in the blog Drip Feeding.
As leaders, particularly if we want to protect our Authenticity, we need to pro-actively manage our communications, all the way through the levels it is intended to pass. Of course we can’t accompany the messages. But we can apply checkpoints along the way.
How? Any leader worth their salt knows that leadership is about people and communication. And to maintain all that, we best stay in touch with all our people as much as we can. I urge my clients to actively practice what I wrote in Walkabout. Asking questions. Being Interested. Listening.
And in the context of this article, subtly testing for the messaging they ought by then to have received. It is this form of corroboration I urge my clients to become adept at. We’ll never be able to stop agenda based filtering. But such corroboration puts us in control. If distortions are evident, we can “rescue” the original intent. But only if we are aware of it.
Message Filtering. So What?
So where do you sit with this topic?
Are you a polished player that knows and exploits the boundaries of the rules?
Or perhaps still new to the game and somewhat naive?
Either way, I urge you to develop an awareness of the practises involved. Leaders need to know how to play and protect themselves from the vagaries of corporate politics. They won’t go away.
How you balance that with maintaining your authenticity and integrity is a subject we very often focus on in our coaching conversations.