In Communication and the Quest for Information I noted that I learned two important lessons in my work on the Nogales US / Mexico border. This post illustrates the second lesson: Communication Misused Destroys Trust.
We were working at Nogales to expedite truck traffic across the border. This was in 1997, so we were mostly afraid of drug smuggling and not terrorism.
The goal of the project was to pre-clear certain trucks and cargo, so they could bypass the border crossing and continue on. Since NAFTA, the truck traffic from Mexico to the US increased substantially. We were hired to figure out a way to reduce the sometimes 6 hour queuing that was taking place at the Nogales crossing.
As you can imagine, there's a lot of stories that go with this, but one in particular centers around a certain form.
One of my jobs on this project was to analyze all the different pieces of paperwork and bureaucratic hurdles a shipment had to complete before the process was satisfied. As you might guess, the map of this was huge and complex.
When I had completed that analysis, we were in a meeting and I told the stakeholders that there was a lot of redundancy. Everyone nodded. They knew there was redundancy.
So I took out two forms, one was a pink form from one agency, one was a white from another. From across the room I held up the pink one. Everyone could identify it as the pink form from that agency. Then I held up the white one. Everyone knew that one two.
The forms asked for exactly the same information.
I asked, "Can anyone tell me why you make the drivers fill out the same information twice?"
No one knew the forms captured the same information - even though they could identify the forms from across the room.
The drivers sure knew. They thought the people from the agencies were morons because they made them fill out the same information twice.
The people at the border just didn't have the power, time or freedom to change their environment for the better. So they shut themselves off from even caring to know their environment.
As Bogey said, "I don't stick my neck out for nobody." In Casablanca, Rick had to keep his head down. The misinterpreted stray word in such a politically charged environment could be deadly. In the end, Rick wasn't such a bad guy though.
The same is true for the people on the Nogales border. They aren't able to help others or even themselves because the politics demands that process is more important than communication. This does not make them good and caring human beings. It does, however, make them frustrated.
When you talk to people in the field, they mistrust the offices in DC and they mistrust the congress. If you talk to the drivers, they mistrust everyone upstream from them. This all stems from the misuse of communication. Redundant data collected. Data collected with no observable need. Data required for the sake of the form.
Information and communication are interlinked. We gravitate back and forth about which we focus on more. In the end, they are symbiotic and balanced. Your communication style and the information you exchange is the driving force behind your culture.
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