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Don't Filter Information
August 11, 2011 - 8:31pm

Some of the best advice I got recently about communicating is:

"Don't filter information."

The context for this advice was some technical information about e-learning system downtime that we needed to communicate with our leadership. I was thinking of how to present this information to communicate the meaning I thought most essential, and therefore drive toward the conclusions and actions I thought we should take. Controlling the message and managing the information might be an understandable desire, but when it comes to technology (and perhaps everything else), a controlled message is sometimes the wrong approach.

Deciding not to filter information does not mean that we cease thinking about how to effectively communicate. We need to understand the recipient of the information, and have insight into the most effective manner to package our communication. We should also be aware of how the communication will be perceived, and be prepared to address concerns or questions.

When it comes to technology in general, and specifically to technology based failures, a commitment to not filter information requires that we:

  • Fully and completely enumerate and elucidate any unexpected and unplanned outages or performance issues.
  • Be willing to provide both a summary of the issues, as well as a full and in-depth technical briefing of the causes behind the issues and the steps that are being taken to avoid future technical problems.
  • A willingness to take responsibility for the technical issues, to be held accountable for the disruptions that are caused by unplanned downtime or performance issues (to not pass this responsibility downstream to vendors or unexpected events).
  • A commitment to timely communication, even if full information is not known, and the availability of an open channel for communications, questions, and concerns.

The realization that my natural tendency is to "filter information," to shape the message, is both helpful and troubling. We all practice impression management, and we all want to look good. I appreciated the advice, and the direct manner in which it was given to me.

What advice would you give for communication around technical problems, or other unpleasant events?

How has your approach to communication changed over your career?


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