Mixed Signal Communication

This post comes from inspiration when I was living and working in Memphis, Tennessee, a couple of months back.

The surrounding area where I used to work was a popular area for those trying to be the next Lance Armstrong – you know what I mean:  ten-speed bikes and full-body jump suit. Truthfully, I do not have an issue with the people that like to bike. However, I do have an issue with those bikers who ride on the road and fail to use hand signals, use the wrong hand signals, or fail to obey traffic signs. Especially, when you almost hit someone on a bicycle because they fail to obey a traffic signal.

Nearly hitting someone on a bike definitely shakes you up. I know when I ran into this situation due to the rider not obeying the traffic signal, it shook me up. Oddly enough, this experience got me to thinking about a workplace issue:

How often do we experience those situations in the workplace that shake you up due to mixed signal communication?

Specifically instances where you have been given wrong communication, no communication, or someone simply moved forward with a decision/action without considering the impact on you or others.

Wrong Communication

Misguided communication can sometimes occur as a result of the “telephone game” – you tell one person, they tell another, etc. and the information becomes something other than what it started out. In other instances, wrong communication can result with people not being included or not being fully informed.

No Communication

Failing to communicate in the workplace in my opinion is simply unacceptable. Yet, there are still employees, managers, and leaders who do not effectively communicate with people in the workplace. Why?

Because we allow them too.

But isn’t it true that it is easier to ignore the issue than to address it? Hmm, let’s think about that. NO!

Disregarding Impact to Others

It is 4 p.m., and you get an email about a new process or procedure to be rolling out. As you read through the email, you realize that this process or procedure is going to hinder your ability to effectively complete your job. So what do you do? You begin asking questions.

Eventually your questions get ran up the chain to the point that someone then realizes the process or procedure just rolled out will have to be modified because someone did not consider the impact to others. This doesn’t mean it was intentional and usually it isn’t. But rather, it is a situation where one was thinking or operating at that “micro” level and didn’t consider how this could impact others.

 Addressing Mixed Signal Communication

Communication today is key; no matter how many new technological advances come out, communication between people is still necessary to get the job done. Therefore, to promote effective communication versus mixed signal communication, keep the following in mind:

1. Seek out the source – go directly to the source for the information, which will aid in avoiding the “telephone game” and a mixed message

2. Include necessary stakeholders to gain clarity on how decisions will impact other work areas/people

3. Think strategically and evaluate both at the macro and micro levels

4. Hold people accountable to poor communication skills, to include yourself; the more we allow this behavior, the more it becomes detrimental to everyone in the workplace

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; asking questions promotes healthy dialogue that can assist us so as to not get “hit” expectantly


As we move into 2012, what other suggestions do you have for others to avoid mixed signal communication? Additionally, what have been your experiences with mixed signal communication?



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