I started working in my little corner of this big, faceless bureaucracy almost seven years ago. In that time, I’ve had nine different direct line bosses. With a bit of rounding that means I can expect to see a new boss approving my leave requests and fussing over my use of passive voice every nine and one third months on average. Breaking in a new boss is something of a process. Personally, I strongly oppose asking anyone to do that consistently every nine months.
Because life in the bureaucracy resembles farce almost as much as it does tragedy, it’s not all bad news. The new boss that I found out about having this morning has been my new boss on three other separate occasions during these last seven years. At least he’s a known quantity to me and me to him. It smooths the rough edges of the transition a bit.
Still, when the powers that be are making a big pitch for “earning back the trust of the employees,” a surprise reorganization first thing on Monday morning doesn’t exactly instill confidence. With Communications with a Capital C right there in the name on the sign, you might think that would be a skill we’d try to practice from time to time.
There’s nothing like the sobering presence of death to help bring your day into focus. That great equalizer of men and kings comes to us all in time. It’s one of the very few common truths that we all share between us – the grand irony of that being that it’s one of the few things we as a culture don’t talk about in anything more than a whisper.
Despite the outward appearance of building briefings and fidgeting with memos all day, what I’ve really been doing is processing; adding new facts to what I think I know about the world and the people in it. What I really came up with is that on balance I’ve been a bad friend to so many who have deserved better.
We grew up together or grew into adults in one another’s company. We met for a time and parted company. We shared secrets deep or dark. We laughed, cried, then laughed again. We took long draughts from the tap in crowded rooms or passed hours in companionable silence.
Life happened. We moved on or moved apart. We had kids or didn’t. Our careers took us around the world or brought us back home to the mountains. We had different politics and wildly diverging interests.
Even though Facebook helped, we did a shit job of keeping in touch and staying engaged. That’s the part that hurts – the ease with which we could have picked up the phone or sent an email, but didn’t because there would be time for that tomorrow or the day after. Maybe we’re all wild eyed optimists believing against all outward evidence that there will always be a tomorrow.
I’m a bad friend. I freely admit it. I’m the first to want to race home from wherever I am and whomever I’m with and slam the garage door shut. I should have done more to keep the lines of communication open and didn’t.
Know this, though, if you were my friend, you are my friend still. Despite years or circumstances I think of you often – and mostly smile or chuckle at the thought. I may occasionally roll my eyes. In my mind we’re all still at some vague age between 17 and 23 and have only been parted for a moment no matter how the years have intervened.
I carry you with me always. In the moment that doesn’t feel like much, but it’s something and occasionally something has to be enough.
It’s been a lot of years since my undergraduate communications course, but I remember a few tidbits from that long ago class. The most important of those would seem to be that communication, no matter its form involves both the person “sending” the message and the person or people “receiving” the message. In the absence of the sender, you’re just someone listening to dead air. In the absence of a receiver you’re just talking to yourself.
In the mad dash of social media to tell us who’s standing and who’s kneeling, it’s been pointed out by more than one of the people in my feed that the “intended message” of the players to choose to kneel is being largely ignored or misinterpreted . Therein lines nearly every problem with communication. While original intent is important what’s more important is crafting and delivering your message in such a way that it is “heard” by the receiver in a way that matches what you intended them to hear.
Any halfway decent public relations firm could have told the knee takers that a protest centered around the national anthem would draw attention to the cause – but not the kind of attention the sender might want. Despite the old saw, I’ve never been of the opinion that all press is good press. No matter how well intentioned (and I’m not personally willing to even concede that point), kneeling during the national anthem was bound only to attract controversy. Once it did that, the actual intended messages became entirely academic because it was buried under the weight of those rejecting the message because of how it was delivered / how it was received.
My advice? If you’re making millions of dollars a year and are bound and determined to have your voice heard, spend a little money with your favorite public relations professional. Let them help you craft the message and the delivery vehicle. Laying out a few dollars up front so you can shape the dialog instead of inflaming a substantial percentage of your fan base seems like it would have been money well spent in this case.
You’ve literally had weeks to get your shit in order. There have been countless meetings in which all the materials have been changed, changed back, and then altered a dozen more times. But for some reason here we sit at 4:45PM the day before the goddamned meeting starts waiting on “final final” changes so we can go forth and kill a few dozen trees in this mad quest to build the Briefing that Saved the World.
Here’s the secret I’ve learned after sitting through, easily, hundreds of very similar gatherings of the great and the good: What you have written on the slides generally doesn’t matter all that much. Conveying information isn’t about the damned slides. It’s about what you say, how you say it, your body language, and the connection you can forge with the person you’re trying to communicate with in the few minutes you’re in front of them. By contrast, 75% of the handouts you’ve slaved over are going to end up in the trash can. If your audience is polite they’ll at least wait until they’ve left the room to throw them away.
I’ve often theorized that if people knew how much time (and salary dollars) were wasted in the endless transition of “happy” to “glad” or trying to pick out just the perfect shade of blue, they’d rise up in bloody revolt. They’d be well justified.
If you stick around any place long enough you’ll find that you’re often able to predict trouble spots in most of your standard and repetitive procedures. The place where I didn’t expect it to show up this week was in finding myself personally responsible for one of the 60 people who just didn’t bother to show up as scheduled.
It turns out that even though 59 other people received the voluminous email messages addressed to “Dear Random Major Event Attendees”, and showed up as directed, email is “not a sufficient way to communicate.” The other, simpler, possibility is that someone just didn’t bother to read and follow the directions that got, literally, every other person on the list to the right place at the right time.
Look, I don’t mind taking my lumps when I well and truly fuck something up. By all means, lay it on. However, when the fault lies plainly on the 1 in 60 that failed to comply, well, I don’t know what to tell you… Maybe plus up the budget a bit so we can hire a full time invitation engraver?
“You’re going to be able to keep you current phone number,” might just prove to be as much of a joke as “You’re going to be able to keep your doctor.” After seven days of not having a phone at work, I now possess the capability to have voice conversations with people who are too far away for a good strong yell to be effective. That’s a plus. I didn’t realize how many times a day I used the damned thing until I suddenly didn’t have it. That’s the good news.
The bad news, because there’s always bad news, is that the number people have to dial to reach me is not the old number that “I get to keep.” That, it seems, is a “phase two” of this particular project. Given the sloth-like speed at which phase one has been carried out, I expect to still be waiting for my actual phone line to be assigned sometime when I get back from my Christmas vacation.
In the meantime, the telecommunications gurus have come up with a work around by which apparently every telephone in the universe is forwarded to a different number, somehow magic happens, and calls to our original number end up ringing through at our new location. It’s safe to say that I lack faith in this particular arrangement to be anything more than one of Uncle’s standard cluster fucks. Clausewitz tells us that in war even the simplest things are hard to do. It’s no less true in peacetime as it turns out.
I should have long ago given up on the idea that anything might just work as advertised, but God it would be nice to be pleasantly surprised just this once.
I feel like I should start off by saying there are a number of relatively decent things about my current employment situation. I’m paid reasonably well, I’ve got a fighting shot at retiring instead of dropping dead in my traces, and I don’t have to sling 50 pound bags of anything from one end of a warehouse to another. It’s important to acknowledge that, I suppose, before I start ranting and raving about whatever utter asshattery takes over any given day.
As a sat at the office for a second day with no working telephone and people getting increasingly irate that I was “avoiding them,” though, the perks felt largely insufficient. Look, I loathe talking on the telephone, but in an environment where “communication” is right there in the name of the organization, basic telephone service a pretty damned significant tool. The only thing worse than having one on your desk is not having one. It’s just one of those petty, but constant sources of irritation that makes the day to day minutia of getting anything done exponentially more difficult.
I don’t have the energy to get started tonight on the dull hum of two massive televisions spewing news in every direction or the dozen shouted conversations from one end of the room to the other or the score of other distractors that are apparently going to be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. But, the wise leaders tell us, this change will make us better. While I won’t entirely rule that out of the realm of the possible, thus far it hasn’t proven to be anything more than an enormous pain in the ass.