Did you know that we cannot NOT communicate? Communication is inevitable.

Think about that for a moment. No matter where you are or what you are doing, if other people are present you are communicating with or to them.

What is the difference between with and to?

When you communicate with someone, you are usually aware of the messages you are trying to send and another person sees, hears or feels you and gives you a response.

When you communicate to someone, you may not be aware that you are sending messages or that another person is receiving and responding to them. The messages you send may be completely unintentional; and, they could hurt your reputation in the workplace.

Here is a story that illustrates this principle (Names have been changed, but the situation was real)

I had just started a new job and was feeling pretty comfortable with my team-mates. They had given me a good orientation and encouraged me to ask questions when I was unsure of what to do. We had a relatively stress-free work environment and often had coffee together. My boss, Doris, wasn’t around a lot but she led team meetings a couple of times a week and checked in on me occasionally to see how I was doing.

A couple of weeks after I started, I was walking down the hallway and saw Doris coming towards me. I smiled at her as we passed and — nothing. No response from her. In fact, it seemed like she either didn’t recognized me or purposely ignored me.

Did I do something wrong?

I tried to think of something I might have done wrong but couldn’t come up with anything. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day. The following morning we had a team meeting; Doris was smiling and friendly. She helped me with a problem I was having and behaved like there was nothing wrong between us. I was a bit confused, but too new to question her about the day before.

It happened again!

A few weeks later, the same thing happened we passed in the hallway. She was looking right at me but didn’t respond.

I thought about asking my team-mates about this, but I didn’t want to change our relationship by introducing a personal concern. Instead I asked someone I knew from another department. Here is what I learned: Doris had a reputation for ignoring people and for only talking to people outside her own department if she needed something from them.

This didn’t seem right.

I knew Doris as an intelligent and considerate person. I had never heard my team-mates say anything negative about her, and except for ignoring me in the hallway a couple of times, she was a great boss. Why would someone purposely ignore people who they worked with. I figured something else had to be going on. Maybe she was just really deep in thought and didn’t notice the people around her.

The next time I saw her coming towards me, instead of just smiling and nodding, I said “Hi Doris!”

I was surprised and relieved by what happened next. Doris looked at me and broke into big smile. She said, “Sorry, Fiona. I didn’t see you there. I don’t like wearing my glasses. Actually, I can’t see anyone.”

What happened next?

Now, you might be wondering what happened after that. Well, I didn’t tell Doris what I’d heard about her, but I did let her know that people might think she was ignoring them. And she started wearing her glasses….sometimes.

Does this seem familiar?

When you think about your workplace, are there people who don’t acknowledge you and you wonder why? What do you think they are communicating to you?

Are there people you aren’t acknowledging? Do you think that because you don’t talk to them that you are not communicating with them. Are you, like Doris, blind in the hallways?

Remember, communication is inevitable. We cannot NOT communicate

If you have as similar story to share with me, or if you would like advice on how to improve communications in your workplace,  I’d love to hear from you. Just send me an email.