What happens when we build fences?

Monday, April 2, 2012 | |

On my way to work on Friday, I noticed a large white sign at the side of the road. In big red letters it said, “Heavy traffic at RIM Park from March 30 to April 1. Expect delays.” The sign hadn’t been there the day before and I wondered what big event or circumstance was behind the heavy traffic.

Driving by RIM Park I looked over the parking lot and the outside of the sports complex to see what clues I might find in the mystery of the heavy traffic.
Aside from additional signs directing people where to park, it seemed like a day like any other. I was stumped. But still, I wanted to know - what was going on at RIM Park?

Chances are good that whatever was planned for RIM Park would be of little to no interest to me, but the desire to know had taken over!

I was reminded of a car dealership with which I used to do business. They were having a sale, but rather than advertise in the usual ways, they told no one and erected a giant fence around their property days before the sale was to begin. They hired a security company to have guards stand in front of the fence 24 hours a day to prevent people from trying to look through the fence. They were instructed to tell anyone who asked what was going on, “We’re not able to provide that information.”

People went crazy!

When we’re told we can’t know something, even when we have no idea what we’re missing, our curiosity takes over. Advertisers and marketers can create frenzies by teasing us and withholding information. Perhaps we’ll be more likely to want the product or service when it’s finally revealed.

On the other hand, when we have important information that we need to communicate to employees, customers, or the general public, we need to take a completely different approach. The sign needs to tell us exactly why we should expect higher than normal volumes of traffic. There can’t be any fences or people who stand guard, deliberately keeping us in the dark.

Of course only those organizations intent on sabotaging their image or reputation would ever do these things deliberately, but how often are those same circumstances created accidentally?

• Employees are told there’s a major restructuring planned, but they have to wait until next quarter to hear the details.
• Customers are told that pricing is going to change, but not when or by how much.
• The media reports a scandal, but the subject of the story says, “No comment at this time.”

Information may not always be available to be shared and perhaps the whole story isn’t yet known. But when partial communication is shared, deliberately or otherwise, curiosity will run wild.

Sometimes fences will be built when we don’t want them and there won’t be anything we can do about it. But just as often, our actions, or failure to take actions, build these fences when we can least afford to deal with the results – curiosity out of control, runaway stories.

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them. And if anyone knows what was going on at RIM Park, can you let me know?


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