Aristotle? Plato? Galileo? I didn’t find a definitive answer for to whom to properly attribute my headline quote (if it is indeed an actual “quote”), but I’m sure you’ve heard it in the context of sharing information.
Humans are no different from any other part of nature – faced with a lack of information, even just a perceived lack of information, we will work overtime to fill in the blanks ourselves. And more often than not, we fill the vacuum with exactly what you don’t want us to. And then we tell 2 friends, and they tell 2 friends (see last post)…
I generally think of myself as a reasonable person. Recently, my mom had a major, but relatively common surgery during which a complication occurred. What it meant was a much longer course of recovery was ahead than expected. As her family, and those needed to support her recovery, we wanted not only answers, but a plan. When the answers were slow to come, and the plan never really materialized, we filled in our own blanks and convinced ourselves of the worst. (Fortunately, “reports of her demise were greatly exaggerated”, and my mother is back in the saddle oversharing her wisdom on my child-rearing “skills.”)
In a perfect world, your communication cascade is expertly planned and flawlessly executed. But let’s be honest, it rarely happens the way we’d like it to. And the bigger the message, the more internal disagreement on timing. While knowing exactly when to communicate is an imperfect science, the best way to go is to say what you know when you know it. Strong leaders tell people what they know, and if they don’t have the full story, they say when they expect to know more, and they follow up. Wait too long, and the message will get out there, and more often than not, failing to be proactive will result in the need for damage control.
In professional and personal situations we have all been a part of it. When facing a vacuum of information, we seem compelled to default to fear and assume the worst. As communicators, we need to fill the void with our message before someone fills it with theirs.