Conflict and Communication Distortions

We just weren’t on the same page. I said our meeting was at 10 am. He said it was at 11 am. After several attempts to resolve this by email, I picked up the phone. That’s when we discovered that he thought it was at 11 am because he just returned from the east coast where 10 am really was 11 am EST, and he knew Dewey’s Pizza doesn’t open until 11 am. From his frame-of-reference it had to be 11 am. From my frame-of-reference it had to be 10 am because that’s the time we had set up. We eventually agreed to meet somewhere else to keep the appointment at 10 am.

As minor as this is, not examining your frame-of-reference can cause huge problems in the workplace. Take Phil.  His mother never worked outside of the home nor did his wife. He just didn’t get why women would want to work outside the home, particularly if they had children. Imagine what kind of supervisor Phil was to the new woman electrical engineer who just happened to be married with small children. He didn’t examine his frame-of-reference and, as a result, didn’t value the new engineer’s input. After all, neither his mother nor his wife was an engineer, so he discounted his new employee. Never mind that she had graduated at the top of her class at a very prestigious university.

One day, the new engineer identified a significant design issue in the construction of the new plant. Of course, Phil thought she was wrong and ignored her documentation. Had the issued been fixed when it was discovered it would have cost around $25,000 to fix. Because over a year had gone by and construction had continued, by the time it was obvious even to Phil, now the design flaw would cost over $1,000,000 to fix. Ouch! Phil tried to make the young engineer the scapegoat, but fortunately for her, she had documented her findings in many emails to him. Phil didn’t get fired, but was severely reprimanded and lost a promotion he had counted on. And the young engineer was ostracized for being right. The good news is she had already activated a job search after being ignored one too many times, and happily was in the final negotiations with her new employer when the proverbial “ship hit the sand.”

These kind of communication distortions happen all the time in the world of work. Yet, they don’t have to cause such costly errors. Leaders who have the savvy to examine their assumptions and frame-of-references give themselves a lot more options than just moving a mismatched employee out of the way. Yet how do you approach any situation without prejudice? One way is to ask three trusted friends (not tied to you financially or emotionally) where your blind spots exist. How would these blind spots impact the way you listen and filter information?

Read the following sage advice three times through.

First imagine it being Irish in origin.
Then imagine it being Arabic in origin.
Imagine it being Russian in origin.
How does it impact the credibility and meaning of what is being said?

“He [she] that knows not,
and knows not that he knows not
is a fool.
Shun him

He [she] that knows not,
and knows that he knows not
is a pupil.
Teach him.

He [she] that knows,
and knows not that he knows
is asleep
Wake him.

He [she] that knows,
and knows that he knows
is a teacher.
Follow him.”


Challenge your thinking by enlisting others who do not think the way you think. Typically, they are impartial people who are not financially or emotionally tied to you (that in and of itself can cause distortions). Did you ask them where your blind spots were? How would these blind spots impact the way you listen and filter information? I leave you with this Ted talk that really nailed it for me. (17 minutes)

Oh by the way, the sage advice was Arabic of origin.


Could your organization or association benefit from retaining an outside communications facilitator? Before you decide that it’s time for you to go before the “ship hits the sand,” let’s begin with a conversation by calling 314-560-1088 or Check out this Link.





0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *