Communication or the lack of it
I WAS in New York last week with my friend Ray who works for a multinational financial services firm. He and his co-workers from around the country had gathered in the city for a week to review marketing plans and revenue goals. Which they did.
But during the meetings, the Pooh-Bahs in his division also cryptically mentioned the possibility of a division-wide reorganisation called a "re-org".
After the second day of meetings, I returned to the Embassy Suites to find Ray sitting on the couch, staring into space, his shirt rumpled and untucked. This worried me. Ray is never rumpled. I asked if he was okay.
"What do they mean by re-org?" he asked, still staring straight ahead. "I'll tell you what they mean. They mean job cuts. I think I'm okay but maybe not. Maybe I'm not okay. Do you think I'm okay?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I should've talked more during the meeting today," he said. "I should've gone to the dinner last night. I should've worn black shoes. I looked too casual."
I told him layoffs were rarely decided on the basis of shoe colour.
"YOU don't know these people," he shouted, as red blotches bloomed across his neck. "I just don't understand why they're doing this."
Ray crossed his arms over his chest and began rocking back and forth, clearly on the edge of a gale-force panic attack.
I tiptoed from the room and shut the door. From down the hallway, I could hear him repeating "re-org, re-org, re-org" like a stuck 45 on a diner jukebox.
At the time, I felt Ray's behaviour was a tad extreme. After all, his company's restructuring was far from certain and besides, no one knew what it would entail.
But the next day I went to an exhibit on Albert Einstein at the American Museum of Natural History and experienced, first-hand, the panic and conjecture that comes from not knowing how to interpret information. Physics will do that to you.
The exhibit started off well enough. I entered the hushed museum and learned about Einstein as a young boy.
I reviewed a copy of his report card, which refutes the myth he was not a motivated child. I saw a replica of the compass that launched Einstein's fascination with the forces of nature.
And, in something that belongs in the "Who Knew?" category, I read one of the many love letters Einstein wrote to one of his many mistresses. Apparently, Einstein was a hottie in his day, a babe-magnet with a large appetite.
But then, as I began to read about Einstein's theories, my sunny enjoyment disappeared behind a dark cloud of ignorance.
I read about his General Theory of Relativity, which overturned the classic Newtonian view of gravity that said that apples never fall far from the tree, or some such thing.
I read about the imaginary gravity of projected black holes, which helps to explain why SUVs fall into sinkholes on rainy days.
I learned about Einstein's search for a Grand Unified Theory that would explain everything about everything including, I presume, why Michael Jackson thinks he's Peter Pan.
See, the more I read about Einstein's work, the less I understood it. And the less I understood it, the more I felt compelled to fill in the gaps with my own interpretation.
Even though I listened to the curator's talk, and watched a film narrated by Alan Alda, and reviewed the 72-handwritten pages that make-up Einstein's theory of relativity, I couldn't grasp what his theories really meant. I started to get agitated and speed through the exhibit. Gravitational warps? The space-time continuum? Yeah, yeah, whatever.
By the time I hit the gift shop at the end of the exhibit, I had a massive headache caused, no doubt, by an unprecedented cerebral failure. I sped past the wall of books on Einstein and picked up a souvenir-writing pen.
Ahhhh. This was something I could understand. So simple. So elegant. I held it to my chest until my breath returned to normal.
And when it did, I thought about my friend Ray and his company's re-org.
I began to understand his panic over the proposed restructuring.
He didn't understand why it was necessary. He didn't understand how it could affect him. He didn't understand why he'd been told that information.
And in the absence of all that understanding, he filled in the black holes with his own warped view of the outcome.
As Einstein might explain it, Ray was suffering from an extreme case of E=MC2, which I believe means that expectations are driven by management communication or the lack thereof.
Send this article to Friends by