Friday, February 12, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Eight: "Why Don't They Communicate Better?"

This is the shortest chapter thus far. I'm going to play chicken with fair use and quote it in its entirety so we can all behold the wonder:
In the many workshops I've facilitated over the years, this scene has played out over and over again. I'll ask, "What's the critical issue facing your organization today?" Generally, the answer is not change or competition, but communication. Then it's framed like this: "Why don't they communicate better?"

Actually, communication means not only being understood but also understanding the other person. The QBQ is "How can I better understand you?"

Ha ha, whee!

There's not really much to say about this, unless I'm mistaken. Miller seems to have been a bit cranky when he wrote it, but the central point is fine, I guess; if you're trying to work with someone, you have to make yourself understood to them and you have to make sure you're understanding them also. Fine, whatever. I hate to think of human communication, expression, and life reduced to this kind of utilitarianism, especially in the interest of wage slavery, and I'm tempted to bring up Hugo Ball for the second time in two days, but again: whatever.

One thing I would like to mention, though, is that it's occurring to me how ironic it is for Miller to have named his book and concept "The Question Behind the Question," because he himself seems to be completely unable to peel back even the most superficial of layers to look underneath. I gather that the workshops he mentions having facilitated are sometimes made up of managers, sometimes of low-level employees, and sometimes a mix. In each of these groups, there are very good reasons why no one will mention the real "critical issue" facing them, and will instead go for things like "communication" or "competition" or "change."

This critical issue, of course, is the system of top-down exploitation in which everyone finds themselves, at one point in the heirarchy or another. In a group of managers, no one will mention this because their continued ability to function (under the demands of both their jobs and their consciences) depends on not acknowledging this system. In a group of workers or a mixed group, of course no one will mention this because if they do they put their jobs in jeopardy (and, more immediately, they're probably thinking that the less waves they make, the faster the damn workshop will be over with). Now, not every worker will think to put it in these terms, but all of their genuine concerns, what they will really be thinking when they say communication or competition or change is the big problem--insufficient pay, shitty or no benefits, meager or no vacation and sick time, unequal pay for equal work, what have you--will always be an aspect of this larger problem.

Miller, of course, does not realize that this is what is going on--that people are lying to him--because his job depends on not realizing it.

QBQ! Table of contents


Soj said...

I got to say my original theory that this QBQ is a re-hash of the Book of Job seems to be spot on.

There's not really much to say about this, unless I'm mistaken.

Just a nitpicky thing but it seems your comma usage is a little haphazard. I'm assuming you're USAmerican and god knows we love our commas but sometimes a little dab'll do ya ;)

As for this "chapter", I mourn the trees which had to die not only to print this fetid book but to provide the whitespace around 200 word chapters.

I'm not a solider in the Cubicle Wars anymore thank goodness but I wonder exactly who it is at these conferences telling the author the biggest problem "their" organization faces is "communication".

I understand why it's not competition as that's an issue only facing the Big Boys at the topmost level. This QBQ crap isn't about increasing market share, it's about how to discipline your employees. I think that's what this codeword "communication" is being used for - in lieu of "discipline".

Since you own the paper version of this book, flip through and imagine all of this is a training manual for field supervisors in a literal field 150 years ago (aka agricultural plantation) and substitute the word "manager" for "field boss" and "employee" for "field hand" and I wonder how perfectly it meshes.

Ethan said...

That comma was just there to indicate a pause (there'd be one there if I was talking out loud), not for any grammatical purpose. I use my commas where I damn well please--this is AMERICA. I also use em dashes with abandon, you wanna make something of it?

"Communication = discipline" is an interpretation that hadn't occurred to me. It certainly fits in with the "change = firings" theme of the previous chapter, and I'm sure it was one of the things Miller was thinking of when he wrote this chapter, now that you mention it. I don't think it's the whole story, but it's definitely one of the gem-like facets.

As for your final recommendation--yeah, this book definitely reads like a draconian managerial training manual with just the smallest amount of effort expending in prettying it up for the unwashed.