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For Classroom discussion only Drucker on


Drucker on Communication
What the master has to say about this most difficult business skill

Peter Drucker invented the field of management studies, and he has been on the cutting edge ever
since. Just look at his assessment of what the changes in electronic communication would mean to

"Until now, electronic communication has largely adapted itself to the traditional definition of voice,
vision and graphics as distinct separate kinds of communication. From now on electronics will
increasingly produce total communications….. It will make possible simultaneous and instantaneous
electronic transmission of voice, of vision, and of graphics(such as documents or charts). This will
enable people in 25 places anywhere on the face of the globe to be in one visual place where they
can talk to each other directly, see each other, and if need be share the same reports, the same
documents, the same graphs simultaneously, without leaving their office or home."

That is from his book, Managing in Turbulent Times, published in 1980 – years before anyone
understood the potential of the World Wide Web. And, just as he has been able to see ahead of the
curve on the capabilities of the machines, so he has clearly understood the difficulties and importance
of communication in the workplace.

As he says. "The communications gap within institutions and between groups in society has been
widening steadily – to the point where it threatens to become an unbridgeable gulf of total

Fortunately, Drucker is also willing to help us solve the problems he points out. Herewith five rules of
communication from the Mahatma of Management to help us span the gulf.

1 Technology isn't communication

While no Luddite, Drucker has never confused technology with communication. As he says in The
Frontiers of Management: "The information-based organization does not actually require advanced
'information technology'. All it requires is the willingness to ask. Who requires what information, when
and where? With nothing more high tech than the quill pen, the British asked those questions in India
two hundred years ago and came out with the world's flattest organization structure in which four
levels of management staffed by fewer than a thousand Britons – most of them youngsters barely out
of their teens and 'lower middle management' – efficiently ruled a subcontinent.

Drucker points out that the question – Who requires what information? – must be asked by any
company building its organization around information technology. He even suggests using it as an
organizational razor. "Management positions and management layers whose main duty it has been to
report rather than to do can be scrapped."

2 Communication is perception

Drucker argues that the best someone can do when writing or speaking is "make it possible, or
impossible, for a recipient … to perceive." Perception is not based on logic, but on experience. For
example, if you say to someone, "I like you a lot," but say it with your back turned toward them or with
a grown in your voice – he or she will pay attention not to your words but to how they are said. They
will perceive that you are not sincere, no matter what message your words are meant to convey. In
short, the effective communicator will ask not just what am I trying to say, but how it will be
understood by the person I am communicating with? Or, as Drucker puts it in Technology,
Management & Society: "In communicating, whatever the medium, the first question has to be, 'Is this
communication within the recipient's range of perception? Can he receive it?'

"Communication … always makes demands. It always demands that the recipient become somebody,
do something , believe something. It always appeals to motivation. If, in other words, communication
fits in with the aspirations, the values, the purposes of the recipient, it is powerful. If it goes against his

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For Classroom discussion only Drucker on

aspirations, his values, his motivations, it is likely not to be received at all, or, at best, to be resisted."

3 Communication can't just go in one direction

What's the key to good communication? Listening. What's the first thing you need to do? Listen. As
Drucker says, "We've been working at communication downward from management to employees,
from the superior to the subordinate. But communications are practically impossible if they are based
on the downward relationship." The harder you try to say something to your underling, the more likely
he or she will mis-hear it. Instead, that person will hear what he or she expects to hear rather than
what is being said. What you need to do then, Drucker says in The Effectice Executive, is ask, "What
are the contributions for this organization and I, your superior, should hold you accountable? What
should we expect of you? What is the best utilization of your knowledge and ability?" By listening to
the person's answer you will then know what he or she can or cannot perceive or hear. And then, he
says, "communication becomes possible, indeed becomes easy."

4 Communication and information are totally different, but interdependent

Communication is what happens when we transmit - through writing, talking or whatever – information
to somebody else. While we can be reasonably sure what we are transmitting to one person, as the
number of persons increase, so does the likelihood of being mis-understood. In The Effective
Executive, Drucker points out that the information revolution actually makes this more difficult.
"Throughout the ages the problem has been how to get 'communication' out of 'information'. Because
information had to be handled and transmitted by people, it was always distorted by communications;
that is, by opinion, impression, comment, judgment, bias, and so on. Now suddenly we are in a
situation in which information is largely impersonal and, therefore, without any communications
content. It is pure information."

"The more we automate information handling, the more we have to create opportunities for effective
direct communication."

5 If you don't ;learn to communicate well, you don't get to do anything that's fun

Most of us believe that if you can't communicate well, you won't be an effective, efficient executive. In
Managing in a Time of Great Change, Drucker points out the more important fact that if you don't
communicate well, you won't get to do those things you actually enjoy doing, the things that make you
want to go to work each day. "We are one hundred years past the simple economy in which most
people know what others did at work. Farmers knew what most farmers did, and industrial workers
knew what other factory workers did … No one needed to explain. But now no one knows what others
do, even within the same organization. Everybody you work with need to know your priorities. If you
don't ask and you don't tell, your peers and subordinates will guess incorrectly."

Thus, Drucker concludes, "When you don't communicate, you don't get to things that you are good
at." because you'll have to do someone else's job, or fix someone else's mistake. And he goes on to
say that, "People seldom pay attention to their strengths. For example, after thinking for a long time,
an engineer told me he's really good at the first design, at the basic idea, but not at filling in the details
for the final product. Until then, he'd never told anybody, not even himself".


Further Reading:

The Efficient Executive by Peter Drucker (1993 reissue, Harper Business, 178 pp. $14.00. Tel. 800-242-7737)

The Frontiers of Management: Where Tomorrow's Decisions Are Being Made Today by Peter Drucker (1999 reissue, Penguin,
368 pp, $13.95, Tel. 800-788-6262)

Managing in a Time of Great Change by Peter Drucker (1998, Plume, 385 pp, $13.95, Tel. 800-788-6262)

Managing in Turbulent Times by Peter Drucker (199 reissue, Harper Business, 256 pp, $14.00, Tel. 800-242-7737)

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