Communication and the power game

Communication and the unintended power game

Have you ever been involved in a conversation at work and suspect that you are the last to know about that big piece office gossip?  You remember that crushing feeling when you have get told in passing about that big deal that is just about to be signed?  Maybe you are the person who has started the conversation… confidentially speaking….

Of course you have because at sometime in your life you have played the knowledge is power game.  That power positioning over another person is common practice and it is a well rehearsed practice that is ingrained deep within most organisations.  It is hugely impactful, but for all of the wrong reasons.

Knowledge over means power over someone and this simple communication game is a toxic and highly dysfunctional.  Any culture that plays power games is really playing and feeding on fear.

The unintended impact

  • Rejection.  Each time you exclude someone from an email, intentionally or not, or have a secret conversation, or discuss something with a group without including other key people you are creating exclusion.  When the excluded inevitably find out that they weren’t included they feel instant rejection.  There, at that moment, a rush of stress, fear and insecurity rushes through their brain and their body.  They can’t think straight and start second guessing about peoples motives, making stories up in their heads and essentially wasting time and energy.
  • Fairness:  When there is lack of openness or transparency we can feel that the situation is unfair or unjust.  The emotion that shows up is anger and this is one of the most destructive emotions of all.  In this state of mind we often plot and plan, have revengeful thoughts or become blockers and or hold grudges.  None of these behaviours are productive when building a team or culture.
  • Territorial:  When we feel rejected, excluded or like someone has power over us, a common response is to gain territory.  This may show up as colleagues turning up in every meeting, getting involved in every decision, or copying in the world to their emails.  They might create their own “insider” group to gain territory and feel like they have peer support.  When we feel small we try to become bigger.
  • Status: And what comes with territory, knowledge, power and inclusion? Status.  As a result of poor communication you can inadvertently create new levels of hierarchy, peer pressure, and people playing the status game.  You may create a beast.

The impact of communication exclusion can be devastating for team trust.  To really overcome this dysfunction you need to take a step back to watch yourself.  Building transparency creates trust.  If there is information that can’t be shared, in a transparent organisation a leader can simply reply, “I am sorry I can’t answer that right now” and it is accepted.  It is accepted because there is trust that each person will be communicated with at the right time.  There is trust that there are no power games being played.  And there is also trust that people will be called out when gossip and communication power games show up.

At the very least, when a decision is made, agree as a team what can be communicated, by whom and how, and as a team you become jointly accountable for honouring it.