“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”

Who doesn’t remember that famous line from Cool Hand Luke?

It’s one of those iconic, ironic phrases that uses few words to convey so much. And it resonates with those of us who work in PR, content marketing and social media.

You wonder why, with all our business savvy and skills, so many people and organizations are just plain awful at telling their stories. Aren’t there enough cases, books and training modules out there to help us do a better job? 

Of course, we come up with many excuses. But I think the crux of them all is our out of control ego. And our habitual reliance on using it as a guiding force.

I’m not going to get into a discussion here on Freudian psychology and yes, I know egos play a key part of our personalities and sense of self – not to mention their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

But when we let them run the show, they become the mortal enemy of open, honest, trustworthy communications for a number of reasons:

  • Egos are prone to show off and demonstrate how smart and erudite they are – often at the price of clarity.
  • Egos take things way too personally and have a skewed view of control mutuality, the agreed upon balance of power in any relationship. It’s all about them!
  • When our egos get inflated with delusions of grandeur, you never know when they’re going to explode. And those of us who are guardians of reputation are left to clean up the mess.

Ego free zone
So as an experiment, I’d like you to put your ego in a locked compartment for a week…OK, 20 minutes! And instead of judging every single interaction, give people the benefit of the doubt (even if they may not deserve it), consider where they’re coming from, what’s bothering them and how you can use communications to get your story across in a more empathetic way.

I think you’ll be amazed at how few failures you’ll find.

What other things can we do to be better communicators? My ego and I anxiously await your comments.

Note: This is day two of the Spin Sucks Scavenger Hunt. (Thanks for including me, Gini!.) If you haven’t signed up, it’s not too late to join in the fun! And here’s a link to Corina Manea’s post from day one.

Bonus: If you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, Gini and her team will send you a fun package of goodies to use in your office.  Just email the receipt to iboughtspinsucks@armentdietrich.com. Don’t forget to include your mailing address so they know where to send it.

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman conducts social media and online crisis training workshops, is a digital and communications strategist and speaks at events across North America. He's the co-founder of three PR agencies, president of a consultancy and has worked in the industry for over 25+ years. Martin is a LinkedIn Learning and Lynda.com author, teaches digital strategy and social media at University of Toronto SCS and Seneca College, and is a past-chair of PRSA Counselors Academy.

36 thoughts on “Why do so many people suck at communications?

  1. martinwaxman Thanks a lot Martin. Speaking of note, may I make a suggestion? I would put the amazon link on “buy a copy of Spin Sucks”. Who reads your post can go directly and buy the book. Just a thought.

  2. Corina Manea Yes – absolutely. Really listening is another way we can push our ego down a bit and hear what the person is really saying without adding our personal clutter.  And…yes, add away! Each day the contest runs, one of us can add something to it!

  3. martinwaxman bdorman264 I would add “it depends!”. It depends on each individual, on his/her availability to learn, to mature and understand what life is all about. I´ve met a large number of people with a vast life/work experience, who were all about the ego! And at the same time, youngsters that were incredible flexible and not driven by ego.

  4. Great great post Martin! What else we can do to be better communicators? I´d say to listen! Not to listen to respond, but to really listen to the other party, to have empathy and patience and to step out of our bubble and see it´s not about ourselves.
    By the way, I am going to borrow your Note idea at the end of the post, as I realized I haven´t put one in my post! Pretty please! Thank you!

  5. John_Trader1 Thanks Jon. That sounds like a challenge. You know, there’s a sting we all feel when we submit something we wrote and it’s sent back with red markings all over it. What I try to do is think of it as a process – and do my best to incorporate the good ideas. Easy to say, harder to do. 

    And I think Canadian egos are up there, too :).

  6. martinwaxman  I wondered the same as I read your post,  what are the cultural and sociological factors that are contributing to the “growth” of ego.  I so hate reality TV, with the exception of some HGTV.

  7. We live in a world of Kardashian size ego’s and selfie designed camera smart phones, is it any surprise we are dealing with issues of ego’s interfering with honest attempts of communication. 

    Happy Birthday Martin!

  8. Excellent post Martin. I can tell you that as head of a department that includes four people who write content on behalf of our company, egos can sometimes be a fly in the ointment. What’s even more difficult is that these folks are spread out across the globe and come from differing cultural backgrounds. Oy.

    What I have found to work in an effort to temper egos that tend to surface from time to time is to consistently remind the team about our end goals and consistently look at stats and analytics to determine what content is working and what isn’t and why. It’s a perfect platform to discuss fine tuning our writing styles and dropping egos that could otherwise cloud quality content.

    One other comment I will make is that based on my experience working with people in different countries, as you may have guessed, our egos here in the U.S. tend to be higher and more pronounced than other countries. No surprise I’m sure. Sometimes I find myself trying to emulate my international colleagues and their empathetic approach as a way to temper my own ego. It’s always an educational experience.

  9. bdorman264 Thanks for the birthday wishes. Yes, I do think age has something to do with it. Hopefully, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way… Though I’ve met my share of people of all ages who put ego-first in everything.

  10. Happy birthday sir.

    Do you think the ego hurdle becomes easier w/ maturity; after life has knocked you upside the head a few times? 

    Good post and whereas ego can drive us, it can obviously blind us as well. Effective communication is a gift.

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