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a different perspective on human capital

Is Your Organization Having a Heart Attack? (Guest Blog by Elizabeth Danzinger – Founder of Worktalk)


“Referred Pain” of Problem Communication
When a person is having a heart attack, her left arm may hurt. The illness is in her heart, but another part of her body is sending pain signals. When pain is felt in a part of the body other than its actual source, doctors call it “referred pain.” Referred pain occurs because of subtle nerve connections between the actual source of the pain and location where it is experienced. In other words, the locations seem unrelated, but they are connected.

Communication is the Heart

Communication is at the heart of every organization. Do people understand each other? Do they know what is expected of them? Do they feel good about the people they work with?  To a great extent, the answers to these questions depend on how successfully managers and staff communicate with each other. Just as a physical heart might signal its distress by triggering pain in far-flung parts of the body, communication breakdowns often manifest themselves in a wide variety of organizational dysfunctions.

For example:

– Productivity declines when hundreds of murky messages and cc’d emails consume so much of an employee’s day that he cannot get his job done.

– Productivity also suffers when employees frequently have to ask each other to explain what they meant in emails and other documents.

– Budget overruns can occur when cloudy emails and instructions lead to misunderstandings that require repetitions and re-work.

– An operations bottleneck can result from employees not understanding directions for production.

– Workplace accidents may increase when safety policies and procedures are conveyed in roundabout, difficult to understand language.

– A morale crisis may ensue when employees interpret managers’ tone as disrespectful or angry.

Each of these issues appears as a separate problem, but at their root, they are problems of communication. Tinkering with the symptom will not alleviate the cause.

Is your organization experiencing referred pain?
Communication is ubiquitous but invisible; it underlies every work process, yet often escapes our notice. When confronted with an organizational problem, it makes sense to look for immediate causes. However, it also makes sense to delve into root causes. By searching for root causes, we can keep the problem from worsening or happening again.

I urge you to consider communication as a factor when you are looking at organizational difficulties. Doing so will keep you from wasting time treating pain in the arm when the problem is in the heart.

Does your organization – or do your clients’ organizations – suffer from referred pain? Could the root cause be a breakdown in communication? If so, contact Worktalk. We give employees the skills and insights they need to communicate clearly, succinctly, and respectfully.

©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

What does Worktalk do?

When communication is clear, business flows. When it is murky, the whole organization suffers. Worktalk enables businesses to harness the power of communication. Our training and coaching programs support you in creating better business results through better writing. Visit www.worktalk.com for more information.


If you would like to relieve the communication pains your organization might be feeling, you are welcome to a complimentary 30-minute consultation with Worktalk’s trainers. We will recommend concrete steps you can take right away to get rid of the “referred pain” of ineffective communication. Contact lizd@worktalk.com or 310.396.8303 to schedule a call.