Rules of Engagement


Whether you enjoy it or not, you are naturally forced to communicate with someone or something in one way or another. While, it is not for certain that you will awake from your deep slumber tomorrow morning (yes, that’s a morbid thought), what is absolutely certain is that you’ll interact with someone through either face to face contact or via digital means OR you’ll engage in the use of  some sort of machinery, device or gadget – after all, even opening a refrigerator or turning on the light is a form of engagement. Most interactions are so innate, we don’t often think about the consequences of our actions. For for the purpose of this exercise, let’s examine how a set of rules might affect an outcome.

When we initiate the process of engagement, it is typically driven by the desire to solicit some sort of a response, in the example of an inanimate object, when I turn the door knob clockwise, I expect that the mechanism in the door will adjust to allow me to push or pull the door open/closed. This is a type of an exchange that is fairly straight forward and involves only the initiator to perform a task. In this instance, there are clear rules (turn of the knob) and clear consequences (the door will unlock).  In addition, my expectations are not just assumptions, they are based on existing factual evidence and personal experiences with the second party, in this case being the door knob.

Now, let’s examine a more complex interaction – one that involves two people. Say that I am an employee at Company X and have just been recruited by Company Y to build and develop a sales team at their new international headquarters . I have accepted a very lucrative job offer at Company Y and have given my two weeks at Company X. I have not officially begun my employment at Company Y, however, my new boss asks that I sit in on an investor meeting. I have not been asked to prepare a presentation, but I do my best to brush up on basic facts and possible topics of discussion that may take place during the meeting. I figure that the best approach would be to engage in an active listening role and keep my contributions to a minimum (being new, I want to tread lightly). The meeting takes place and I execute as intended. The following day, I receive a text message from my new boss and it reads, “I regret to inform you that we have decided to recede our offer of employment. We do not believe it is a good fit at this time.” First response? I would say, utter disbelief. So, what actually happened here? Company Y was extremely enthusiastic about hiring me – after all, they recruited me from Company X. Taking such a drastic measure (receding an offer) based on a single interaction seems questionable (especially after holding in-depth interviews and developing a prior relationship with the candidate, me). It almost looks like Company Y’s assumption that I was not a strong candidate and/or leader was based solely on one instance of engagement (or disengagement, as is their perspective). The problem is that Company Y does not have in-depth knowledge of my abilities and is using assumptions to build their set of expectations. Unlike the door knob case, they are not certain that I will be a strong leader or be able to take a bold stance on a matter that requires decisive action. It’s extremely difficult to trust your gut instincts and act on them, and majority of the time, your instincts are developed based on previous experiences, which provide guidance to your future actions. Another underlining issue is the act of gross miscommunication that took place between the two parties. Company Y’s expectations of what my role was at the meeting was different from what they had communicated to me. This is a clear example of how ambiguity and poor communication can lead to undesirable results. Establishing proper channels of communication will enable us to produce clear guidelines and demystify expectations set for one another.

Unlike 50 years ago, today’s world offers a plethora of solutions and platforms for communication and engagement with one another, but just because we have successfully created additional channels of communication, does not mean that we have fully come to understand the rules of engagement.

Well, at least there’s no ambiguity on how to use a door knob… (err, most of time).

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One Response to Rules of Engagement

  1. Dr. Austin says:

    Incredibly well written and very interesting observations.

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