Hidden Agendas – a Large Barrier to Communication

talking to a masked headHere’s a big barrier to communication – not admitting what your (hidden) agenda is, or that you even have one.

We all have agendas, which is simply indicative of the fact that we have a vested interest in the situation (the reason we care to get involved) and we want things to go our way.  What we want may be to boost our ego.  It may be to help another person.  It may be to add value.  It may be to be recognized.  We all have agendas.

A few years ago I started a new job (very brief tenure there) and had 2 colleagues at the same managerial level that I needed to work closely with.  One of them I knew, not well, but knew from a previous group affiliation.   The other I was meeting for the first time.

My first day on the job as the new corporate communication trainer, I sent an email to both of them stating how glad I was to be there and since there was a lot of work to do in a short period of time, I hoped that we could eliminate the hidden agendas and ego issues and get right to work.

The colleague that I knew came in to my office and not only said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about with ‘hidden agendas’ “ but also that she thought my note got everything off on the wrong foot.   No hidden agenda, you say – really! – some people can be so blind to themselves.

Of course I wanted to slap her right there for her arrogance, but refrained.  Could she have been so naive to actually believe that people don’t have hidden agendas?  Or was she just plain stupid to openly admit that she knew so little about people and how they operate?

I didn’t stay in that job very long – to communicate effectively you need some building blocks to work with, i.e. people at least wanting to help themselves and recognizing the barriers to communication when they are pointed out.

Hidden agendas are, by definition, not readily obvious.  But they exist in practically every interaction for 2 reasons – 1) our basic selfishness (read more on blog post dated 10/10/12) – we want to get something specific from the interaction – sometimes to help someone else and sometimes for ourselves not always consciously registered – but is a motive nonetheless and 2) the unconscious protects the conscious – the unknown world is dangerous and the ever present survival instinct rules behavior.

If a person is unknown or the situation with someone known is somehow different, we want to know the details to base our behavior on the new world order.  So our agenda becomes to figure out how newness or the change impacts us (always operating from What’s in it for me? – see blog post dated 10/12/12).

If it’s a new person, the agenda is still WIIFM, but also perhaps including the selfish twist of showing power (i.e. a new boss), showing confidence (where really it’s lacking), boosting one’s ego (showing off, positive stroking) etc.  There are many hidden agendas, unfortunately many are also hidden from the person who is “unaware” (which I will be kind and label my previous colleague as, versus “stupid” which the annoyed part of me would label her as).  All of these hidden and sometimes purposeful agendas hurt good communication.  [Purposeful agendas are a wholly different matter for another discussion.]

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Knowing and acknowledging that agendas exist, hidden or otherwise, is a good step in developing strong communication skills.  Once recognized, how you go about reconciling conflicting agendas so both sides are happy is one of the hallmarks of a good communicator.

QUESTION:  Can you recall a time when a hidden agenda hurt the communication experience, resulting in an unsatisfactory outcome? 

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