Learning & Development, Q&A

5 Warning Signs That You Are a Fuzzy Communicator

Although one of the most important factors in business is effective communication, both leaders and employees fail to apply tips for effective communication because they were never taught how to do so. As a result, they end up becoming a fuzzy communicator, which looks like a myriad of things.

For example, fuzzy communication happens when a message is massaged, downplayed, or “softened” to make it more palatable up (or down) the chain of command. Fuzzy communication also happens when an important piece of information is not passed along in a clear and understandable way.

In this Q&A with Steve Blue, CEO of Miller Ingenuity – an organization that creates high technology products that save lives and preserves the environment – we take a deeper look at fuzzy communication including what it means to be a fuzzy communicator, the five signs of being a fuzzy communicator, and more.

Here’s what he had to say.

What is fuzzy communication? 

SB: Fuzzy communication is communication that is not clear, crisp, and purposeful. It’s also communication that is done in the least efficient and effective way, that is usually by email instead of face to face.

What does it mean to be a fuzzy communicator?

SB: Fuzzy communicators are more concerned with butt covering than solving a problem. Fuzzy communicators “massage” the message ever so slightly to suit their interests. As the messaging goes up the chain of command, every other fuzzy communicator massages the message ever so slightly again to suit their interests. 

Who is most susceptible to being this kind of communicator?

SB: Anyone can be susceptible to fuzzy communication – from the CEO to managers and employees. However, the most susceptible tend to be incompetent people trying to cover their incompetence by not clearly communicating. 

What are the 5 signs of fuzzy communication?

SB: The 5 signs of fuzzy communication are: 

  1. Email chains that go on and on.
  2. Emails that take a lot of scrolling down to get at the original question or problem.
  3. Messages that “cc” lots of people that can’t affect the outcome of the issue or problem.
  4. When you are more concerned about covering your butt than solving the problem.
  5. When your messages or emails are not clear and are easily misunderstood or misinterpreted.

How can HR leaders manage a team of fuzzy communicators? How can they get them back on track?

SB: There are a number of things they can do. This includes:

  1. Call it like you see it. If you see a 5-mile-long email string, point that out and discuss the dangers of communicating this way.
  2. Encourage the fuzzy communicators to sit face to face and hash out whatever the issue is rather than trying to solve it through email or phone.
  3. Find examples of how fuzzy communication is ineffective and damaging to the organization.
  4. Bring the fuzzy communicators into a room and ask them what they meant by each email string. Then ask the recipients what they thought they meant. This will reveal very different answers and should be enlightening to the fuzzy communicators to find the solution together. 

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