Project Management

Corporate contagion: Read-My-Mind syndrome

Despite having a million devices at their disposal, corporate employees still can't seem to communicate information to each other.

A few years ago in this blog, I discussed a state of mind that I felt was infecting the modern workplace like nobody's business: Alone in the World Syndrome. (Basically, it's the inability to perceive how your actions affect others.)

Since that writing, there has been an infectious offshoot of that disease: I call it Read-My-Mind disorder.

Here's how I came to see this disorder firsthand: I was doing some hiring recently for new writers for the site. I got an excellent response -- over 100 people responded and an extremely high percentage of them were highly qualified. Almost everyone responded with an explanation of their credentials and the reasons they thought they would be a good fit. But one guy (and one guy out of a hundred ain't bad) simply sent me his resume and said, "Take a look and see where I would fit in at TechRepublic."

Now, when someone is in the middle of responding to an avalanche of email inquiries (and especially if said person is grouchy to begin with), the last thing she wants to do is look over your resume to pick out clues as to where your interests lie. You're the one who wants to be chosen/hired. Don't make me work so hard.

But this by no means was an isolated incident. Every day there are examples of Read-My-Mind syndrome. From end-users who get angry at developers because they failed to add a desired feature, even though no one bothered to communicate that beforehand, to developers who make changes to an internal app and then seem surprised when end-users didn't expect them.

A friend of mine is currently working in Read-My-Mind hell. He is constantly surprised by new initiatives that, all of a sudden, need his input despite his having no inkling of them beforehand. Even though his boss is in on several meetings leading up to the project, she never bothered to pass the information on to him. She just expected, I guess, for him to -- you got it -- read her mind.

It's totally ironic to me that with a bazillion communication devices at our disposal, people still can't manage to communicate. It's kind of a childish mind-set to think that just because you're utterly consumed with a project that the knowledge of it will magically swirl around corners (and even across the country) and osmose into the minds of everyone who has a stake in it.

I suppose that's why formal project management disciplines enforce status updates -- because some people don't have the common sense to pass on information naturally.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

16 comments
What_the_Heck
What_the_Heck

...it doesn't surprise me that the Read-My-Mind syndrome is alive and well in the workplace environment. With the entitlement mentality strong with the current workforce, and the dumming down of the school curriculum it's a wonder that any business is conducted at all. Many today cannot communicate in formal written or oral forms. Texting and email has replaced the need for social graces and relationship building. First impressions are out the window and a dictionary for slang definition is a requirement.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I suspect because you're writing a tech blog, you sort of somewhat put the blame on the technology but most people cannot communicate well and have never been able to. It's got nothing to do with email or telephone or writing (Aristotle said books would mark the death of civilization) or speaking. Most folks don't 'know' what they are doing and so cannot teach it to anybody else. It's the correctly interpreted old saw: Those who can do, those who can't teach. Most people use this as a slam against teachers instead of for insight into how teaching (explaining a job or task to someone) actually works. You can see this in the music teaching biz easily. The folks who are 'natural' musicians have one heck of a time teaching folks who aren't naturals because the naturals have no techniques for working around common issues that they never had to deal with. Moms have the same issue. 'Clean your room' seems to them a complete statement but to the husband or child, the room already looks clean. Or picking up the clothes off the floor _is_ clean to them whereas the mom has a different idea of what 'clean' means (often construed as micromanaging when it is really mis-communication or crossed definitions.)

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

I don't think that she is placing the blame on technology, but for human fallibility. Yes, humans do get consumed by daily events and forget what they were going to do in the last meeting, even if it was to send an email out to one of their hires. Managing today is stressful, when you have a lot of people under you and you have many projects you are in charge of. Go from one meeting to another to another. The person will forget what actions he/she was to do from the previous meetings and information gets dropped. As far as a mother expecting a child to know what her meaning of clean is must be explained to the child in detail that the child can understand. It would not be micromanaging as much as training. To have the child constantly being scolded until the room is cleaned to the mothers satisfaction shows a lack of management talent. And, also, damages the child. (No wonder why teenagers today want to get away from their parents. They cannot find a haven with them.) Many times, we have the do as I say people leading rather than the do as I do. Without out proper examples, how can the followers know how to do it right?

TsarNikky
TsarNikky

It comes as no wonder. Corporate arrogance, along with a "not invented here" syndrome, stifles any kind of communication in either direction. Most tragically, when it stifles upward communication. This is most clearly illustrated in the vast majority of dysfunctional or non-functional "Customer Support" departments. All so often, the bigger the company, the worse the support.

gevander
gevander like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

by what you wrote: "... some people don???t have the common sense to pass on information naturally." This tells me you are a writer/communicator who works with other writers/communicators. I can tell you it is not [b]some[/b] people that don't have good communication skills - it is [b]MOST[/b] people that don't have good communication skills. Everybody wants more communication - but only in their preferred medium (f2f vs email vs daily/weekly/etc status reports vs whatever). Everybody wants to receive clearer communications - whether they can communicate clearly or not. Everybody wants to have input to the project/process/issue/event - even if their input is not needed, desired or of value. Too many people want to be "irreplaceable" on the job which leads to a natural tendency to "hoard" information, especially about what they are doing and how - even if someone else has a need to know because they share work or their work is dependent on the hoarder's. But I do have to agree that "Alone-in-the-World Syndrome" and "Read-My-Mind Syndrome" are real. And apparently contagious.

kraabeasa
kraabeasa

Lack of communication despite a plethora of communication devices boils down to the same flaw in security - it's only as effective as the human using it. When humans get lazy, or are spread too thin and are therefore too busy to focus on every single detail, they start taking shortcuts and missing key points that are critical to effective operations. Like clicking on links in e-mails despite the fact that they don't recognize the sender, or choosing 12345 for their password because it's easy to remember, or thinking they sent an e-mail or text when they got interrupted and didn't.

jm1248
jm1248 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Too often, miscommunication is caused by flippant answers to straightforward questions. How often have you been in meeting where some smart-ass manager answers a question with a question or hints at an answer or gives an ambiguous reply? The intent is not to communicate but to appear superior. It's sad how often this type of personality rises in an organization.

jim.lonero
jim.lonero

Maybe it is not "appearing to be superior" as much as having too much informatin to handle. Of course, it may be laziness or bad communication skills. In many cases, the manager deals out the information as he/she feels the employees need it. Sounds like a blackjack game where the manager is the dealer. Since the manager is on the same team, he/she needs to come to the other side of the table and work with the employee, not be in opposition. (In blackjack, all of the players are playing against the house. When the dealer looses, the players win.) If the manager is pulling the same direction as the employees and shows his or her cards, then all will know (have a better idea of) what is coming.

jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338
jev.case-24297005939114168965253281161338

The only thing I can think of that might motivate this behavior is an attitude of self-importance. The instance you mentioned above with the comment attached to the resume is certainly becoming more common in my experience. For instance today one of my coworkers was haranguing our main software developer about a small change that occurred in the latest release of a particular software. It was change that was mildly annoying yes but could have been dealt with easily enough with our resources here. Instead he decided to tell them how much their software sucked. While I wouldn't disagree it seems to be another example of the "read my mind behavior"; programmers are only human and cannot please everyone.

Jimbfo
Jimbfo

Not only programmers fit the case how about help desk or operations.....

astillman
astillman like.author.displayName 1 Like

Having too many devices/channels is part of the problem. Monitoring only certain channels (1 cell, 1 E-Mail, IM) tends to take care of that, because those who want their message to get through learn to use those channels. Another issue is quality of communication. Also, we should emphasize the basics. Think before you write. Use the right medium for your communication. Read your own writing before you send it; better, get another set of eyes. Know your audience and write for them.

jmcamp
jmcamp

And then there's the case of being put in charge of a schedule and delivery, and the boss "forgets" at every turn and keeps giving orders! No wonder people get confused.

wrmosca
wrmosca like.author.displayName 1 Like

The company I work for is forever buying new systems that are supposed to replace existing ones, but never quite make it so we end up keeping both. Now I don't mind supporting more systems, but the only way I find out I'll be doing so is when I get a meeting invite to a training class. Most times I had never even heard of the product.

Bob_or_Fred
Bob_or_Fred like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I can't help but wonder for those resumes that don't call a specific position they are looking for are just trying to look for any position at all. Perhaps they feel like listing a specific position might cause them not to be chosen for a different position that is open. Of course, showing your desperation for a job isn't exactly a way to make yourself an appealing candidate... :)

Nahres
Nahres

I like your comment and I voted for it. Toni spoke of applications for a job, project communciation, customer / peer feedback. When it comes to the applicant who wanted a slot just anywhere the company thought they fit; we can read lack of self-confidence in their statement within the context of the current job market conditions. Project communication is normally done according to a plan, and if people fail to include that in a poroject plan, their PM skills or proficiency are questionable. Projects are not only marketed and sold to peers, but also given a brand. Customer feedback has to be solicited if a company wants to stay on top of things such as internal development, or product development... I would invest time and money to know what is said about my product, service, system, organisational activity, effectiveness, etc. It is what helps me adapt the dyanmic environment around me / my company :)

bkindle
bkindle

I would have to agree with you 100%. What's even worse than that syndrome is having a co-worker who doesn't take the time to ask anything to know what's going on, and then get belligerent and mean when they find out something didn't go as they expected. They also tend to say that things are 'over' communicated........ This seems to run rampant in the business world in which more communication is always on the list of wants. Getting rid of this syndrome will never happen in my opinion. By the way Toni, thanks for being so quick to respond, and for just responding! It's not too often that I actually receive a response from someone on a blog.

Editor's Picks