All Sections

Home | Business

Paul P. Baard's Motivation Matters: Confused messages can cause trouble

November 12. 2017 9:17PM

Because so much of what we do at work entails communication, it’s no wonder there is so much potential for mishaps.

Having served as a senior executive in business and as an organizational psychologist in academe, I have had the advantage of seeing ineffective communication up close, as well as being familiar with the research.

Let’s look at some specific examples that illustrate irritations, which are part of too many exchanges, and which can be real motivation zappers.


While this can be fun when done by an entertainer at a show or circus, it loses its luster when practiced at work. The following is an example from real life early in my days as a manager in a major research organization.

When a client saw the overnight rating for its news show dropped precipitously from its recent level, she promptly called her rep, questioning its accuracy. She had been told the matter would be investigated by the company’s production center and that she would be contacted with the findings.

A few hours later, the client decided she would like to purchase a special analysis to examine the “audience flow” more closely. She placed another call to her rep, indicating it was urgent.

It was now two hours later, and that call was not returned. The client called me out of frustration at not getting a phone call returned by her account representative, who reported to me. It was a simple matter turned ugly.

I contacted the rep to understand his delay. He said he knew why she was calling, but the production center was not done with its investigation. I told the rep that was not why she was calling this second time; the client wanted to commission a special study. The rep was bewildered. He had a hypothesis, but treated his notion as if it were a fact. I am reminded of a statement that has been attributed to Will Rogers “It ain’t so much what I don’t know that gets me in trouble. It’s what I know that ain’t so.” Often the correct answer to wondering what was meant by a remark or behavior is: “I don’t know.” This would logically lead one to go and ask. Which is OK unless you are dealing with the next ineffective communication technique.


Without going into a “white lie” discussion, let’s accept that a call for truth-telling need not require going out of one’s way to render an opinion about the attractiveness (or lack thereof) of your boss’s new grandchild-painted tie. Suffice to say that judgment and discretion should be exercised.

Here’s a next level of deception. An invitation is extended to you to attend a colleague’s birthday party next Saturday. “That sounds great. I’ll put it on my calendar!” Notice he did not state clearly that he was coming. Scott Adams would call that “weasel-wording.”

Taking matters to the corporate level, the following actually occurred at a Wall Street firm. Two junior executives were teamed up to present an investment opportunity to all employees in the firm. They approached management to schedule a series of internal presentations. When asked how long it would take, they said 45 minutes. When told that was too much time to ask of so many busy people, they countered with “Tell them it will only take 30 minutes. We’ll just ‘run over.’” These two ambitious, though deceptive, executives lost their credibility.

One of the essential ingredients in motivation is trust. If it is not in place, intrinsic motivation cannot occur.

Space does not allow me to give other examples of problematic communication, such as flattery, hyperbole, coarse language ... The list is a long one.

Removing roadblocks to effective communication is certainly in the domain of an executive’s development of his or her people. Being aware of the role of communication in supporting a motivating environment is key.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at


More Headlines