Deliberate vs. implicit communication

By: Dave Hogg

In this age where we’re quick to blurt out our thoughts and plans, it strikes me that the best things that I have executed on in my life happened rather quietly. There were no huge announcements. There were no big proclamations. What I did have in all those situations is tons of time to think about the right things and an obsession to work on those things and bring them to life. If communicating with someone was necessary, it’d be done. But there was no more communication than absolutely necessary particularly about incomplete thoughts or ideas.

Just describing this seems to violate so many tenets of running a successful organization. Aren’t you supposed to hyper-communicate? Aren’t you supposed to take feedback? Aren’t you supposed to bounce ideas?

May be. And that is what makes it challenging to reconcile what the best practices state versus my own experience.

I think traditional theories on communication focus excessively on deliberate communication, such as meetings, memos, phone calls etc. While those things become more important as the company scales, the implicit communication is a lot more critical at the inception.

Implicit communication is another way for me to describe the concept of being on the same page or being able to read the other.  I’ll argue that the best start-up teams, by definition, are masters of implicit communication. It is this implicit communication that lets a CEO trust an early employee to make important business decisions without needing clearance. The CEO doesn’t bet that the employee will get every decision correct; but he is certain beyond doubt that the employee won’t make a suicidal decision and that he will make many more correct calls than wrong ones.

When implicit communication fails, it’s because of a combination of issues from having major differences on some principles core to the organization or a lack of trust in ability to deliver. In these instances, it is better to go to a system of deliberate communication. But it is even better to address the root causes.

Deliberate communication in a start-up is akin to having to physically push a car. It will wear you down in little time. Implicit communication is kind of like riding on a highway full of driverless cars, with each car magically working in harmony with the other.

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