When communication breaks down in your office or factory and workers lack motivation, what are the roots of the problem?
On a study tour of a Fortune 500 food company, Peter Grazier, an international consultant specialializing in employee involvement, stopped to chat with an elderly machine operator.
Within minutes, the operator began discussing a solution for quickly clearing bulk food material from a clogged hopper - apparently a frequent problem. The visitor asked him if he had ever told this idea to his supervisor.
"Nobody ever asks for these kind of ideas around here," shrugged the worker, who would be retiring in another few months after 42 years of service.
Grazier writes that he felt the plant manager, who was standing behind him, wishing he could sink through the floor!
How many other ideas would this employee be leaving behind him? Why was the communication environment between management and worker in this food manufacturing plant apparently as sterile as the physical environment had to be?
Of course, we could talk at length about employers or managers who fail to encourage upward communication.
We could contrast these with others who go out of their way to not only to recognize the achievements of their employees or subordinates, but also to instill in them a real sense of importance and self-worth. (In another Grazier "story", he came across a janitor sweeping a hospital hallway and asked him what his job was. The instant response was "customer satisfaction.")
The influence that a positive, reassuring, work environment - one that cultivates self-dignity and encourages contribution - might have had on our food machine operator is obvious.
I would like to suggest, however, that there just might have been other factors contributing to his reticence - factors that have little to do with working conditions in the factory.
It may be a long shot, but it's at least remotely possible that in order to understand our operator's reluctance to share information, his unwillingness to involve himself more than he had to - we might have to look farther than at his work life alone.
We might have to look, in fact, at his earlier life, at what he was doing even before he began to work. We might even have to go back to an earlier stage, as far back as his youth, or even earlier.
Perhaps he might have acted rather differently had he been blessed with a self-confidence not dependant on external circumstances, with an unshakeable sense of self-esteem. And perhaps his self-esteem had been shattered many years before.
A friend who is an experienced educator once made an interesting confession to me.
I should emphasize that his many years of teaching experience is not in the type of school one reads about so often in the American media - places where chaos and violence reign supreme - but in institutions where the young students are refined and serious, and hail from the best homes.
"Usually, a small child arrives for his first day of school with an excellent self-image," he said.
"And very often, that's the end of the story!"
Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com - Your Communication Skills Portal. This popular free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily.