elmer fudd, daffy duck, bugs bunny, communication, Toby Elwin, blog

Subjective communication objective

Looney Tunes, communication, objective, subjective, bias, Toby Elwin, blog

What? Clearly, someone missed the memo

Before you send that email, before you make that presentation, before you deliver that training, understand the objective action you want from that communication.

Communication reaction out of line with the communicator’s expectation is communication that fails.

A successful message meets an action objective of what needs to happen:

  • Get to meeting on time,
  • Spell-check the presentation,
  • Deliver the project by Friday,
  • Motivate your team,
  • Launch compliance online program,
  • Improve sales,
  • Pick up the dry cleaning,

Both information, a one-way channel, and communication, a two-way exchange, need to complete a harrowing journey to make it in one piece to your audience.

The most well-intentioned or most effective communication plan faces daunting odds – and I never confuse intention with effective … come to think of it, effective is highly subjective, as well.

To reach each person, serious perception, bias, and noise obstacles lay between intent and action.

To succeed the communication obstacle course against intent you need to make clear: how to make it happen.

Project Perception

Each person has a unique makeup of experience that creates their process to interpret their world.  I like to say, “seeing is not believing, seeing is perceiving”.

The perception obstacle challenges all communication. Perceptions affect behavior and what is expected of us:

  1. Values  – principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life
  2. Mood – temporary state of mind or feeling
  3. Culture – attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group
  4. Agenda – underlying intentions or motives, and
  5. Emotion – a short, intense feeling resulting from some event

No two people share the same experience, so no two people align all perception and behavior characters to each other.

Further, each person’s behaviors constantly shift as some come to the fore and others recede based on seen and unseen issues, here are some just around mood, emotion, and agenda:

  • Speeding ticket on the way to work,
  • Stapled your hand to the presentation,
  • Person let the elevator door close on your face,
  • Competition for promotion

Now, multiply an individual’s behavior possibilities to each person within a group and we have stew of characters worthy of Looney Tunes.

Project Bias

The second set of barriers to communication objectives is a deeper maze of bias.  Here, again, each person mixes and matches their bias to conditions.

Bias – prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair

This bias short list comes from an excellent book and serves insight into bias obstacle information and communication competes against:


The tendency to base decisions on information that can be easily recalled, neglecting potentially more important information. As an example, a project manager might give undue weight to his or her most recent professional experiences when analysing project risks, creating a barrier to an objective consideration of risks that are not immediately apparent. This particular example of availability is an illustration of the recency effect, which refers to the fact that people often make judgements based on recent events rather than those in the more distant past.


The tendency of people to favour (or selectively seek) information that confirms their opinions. Another manifestation of this bias is when people interpret information in a way that supports their opinions. This is also related to availability bias in that information that confirms one’s viewpoints is more easily recalled.

Illusion of control:

The tendency of people to overestimate their ability to influence events and outcomes that they actually have no control over. This is closely related to overconfidence … and optimism bias—the belief that things will work out in one’s favour, despite there being no evidence to support that belief.


The tendency to make judgements based on seemingly representative, known samples. For example, a project team member might base a task estimate based on another (seemingly) similar task, ignoring important differences between the two.

Selective perception:

The tendency to give undue importance to data that supports one’s own views. Selective perception is a bias that we’re all subject to—we hear what we want to hear, see what we choose to see and remain deaf and blind to the rest.

Loss Aversion:

The tendency to give preference to avoiding losses (even small losses) over making gains. A particularly common manifestation of loss aversion in project environments is the sunk cost bias of throwing good money at a project that is clearly a lost cause.


The tendency for people to seek as much data as they can lay their hands on prior to making a decision. As a result, they are swamped by too much irrelevant information.

source: The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations by Paul Culmsee and Awati Kailash*

Where perception may prove long-simmering and difficult to guess, bias presents a more frequent opportunity to surface, review, align, and articulate through frequent efforts at evaluations, reviews, data, and surveys are all open to unique interpretation because of bias.

Align your communication to acknowledge and surface bias in both your view and in team review.

Project Noise

Ok, you planned for perception.

You preemptively met bias concerns.

Now you have to cut through the clutter and differentiate from the noise and communication saturation for your message to land.

When you expect action an what needs to happen, lay out your communication objective.  In 8 steps to better decision-making I made a case that there are a series of steps we go through to filter noise to get to a decision.

The people you communicate with do not all need to decide, some need simple awareness. View communication through following stages to plan your communication delivery levels:

  1. Noise – all the 0s (zeroes) and 1s (ones), bits and bytes throughout the web, over the airwaves, across the spectrum;
  2. Research – the initial question, I wonder if… that sends you to seek answers;
  3. Information – the all-source return dump from your question or a 1-way flare (information is different from communication: see below);
  4. Data – the filter to makes sense of what is valuable and what is garbage;
  5. Communication – the 2-way relay of what you find and what needs further refinement;
  6. Interpretation – the unaccountable and unseen layers of values, wants, needs, bias, emotions, and agendas (to name a few) that your communication target has filtered your communicate through to draw their own interpretation of the information or data.  Note: you have no control on how or what you communicate is interpreted as you intended; proceed with caution;
  7. Conversation – the deeper dialogue to clarify responsibility; and
  8. Decision – the shared commitment

Communication obstacles effect both the intent and the impact of the communication.

Each is a series of filters that sift, interpret, and frame communication.  Most communication leans more towards confusion than clarity, and confusion is the biggest enemy to change.

Whether strategic plan, change management, project, training, town hall, or digital marketing, know you audience, know their perception, know their bias, know your goal.

And know the same for your team.

Know the same for you.

That is a lot to know, but is the difference between getting it done versus getting it accomplished.


*The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations offers fantastic insight into:

  • project management,
  • best practice,
  • argument mapping,
  • management theory,
  • organization behavior

All a bit of an unfair assessment as it is so much more, I present in an earlier post: Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices, by the book

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Comments 2

  1. “Wabbit season!”
    “Duck Season! Fire!!”

    Sometimes it’s the action objective, and other times it’s about the object to be acted on. Everything I know about getting positive and negative outcomes, I learned from watching Chuck Jones cartoons.

    *beep, beep*

    1. Post

      Ducks. Rabbits. Why quibble over little details? Reminds me of those requirements review meetings: “is that shippable code?”

      I like your point, reminds me of a good writing model: subject – verb – object

      Dave, thank you for stopping by with a comment, I enjoy your site for many things project management.

      Always appreciate your weekly article recap section, you have a great ability to distill to one sentence the essence of the post, I should be so concise and pithy.

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