Yes, Communicating is a Risk

Posted by Danielle DeLozier on February 13, 2017

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At first glance, some will interpret the title of this post as a caution against communication and confrontation. But my intention is quite the opposite. Proper communication is the core ingredient to a successful implementation.

I am not at all an expert on the subject of communication. After all, I am a computer geek – a Web guru to be exact. Those of us who tend to enjoy engrossing ourselves with the constant company of a computer are not always associated with exceptional intercommunication skills. But imagine if we were!


What holds us back from communicating can be summed up as fear. We fear offending someone with our critiques, criticism of our own work, rejection of our ideas, disagreements about approaches and maybe even sometimes revealing our lack of knowledge of a certain topic. We fear that if we communicate, that we risk some or all of these things.

“Risk,” as a noun, is defined as, “a probability or threat of damage, injury, liability, loss or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided through preemptive action.”

I like to look at problems and questions from a logical, mathematical perspective because it makes me feel more secure about my decisions. For the most part, math is math. 2 + 2 never equals 5. It always equals 4. So, if I can make sense of something mathematically, then it has to be solid logic, right? And risk can be actually calculated as Threat X Vulnerability X cost. 

Consider this scenario: I’m coding a new Web application and something does not make sense to me. I receive a mockup that has lovely yellow text on a white background. It looks great to me, because I have 20/20 vision. But, I have knowledge in the field of User Experience, and I know that yellow on white does not provide a sufficient contrast ratio for people with poor eyesight or people who suffer from color blindness. Do I raise the issue? After all, I’m not the designer and it does look great with the design.

Let’s take a look at the risk.

THREAT

The threat is that some users will not be able to read the yellow text. 50% of adult Americans have poor eyesight, meaning our threat is at 50%.

VULNERABILITY

The vulnerability of this threat is 100%. We know for a fact that there are people in the world with poor eyesight.

COST

The cost can be immeasurable. It can be anything from a customer leaving a Website, not understanding the content and/or losses of online sales, depending on the content represented by the yellow text.

Imagine that the client in our scenario averages $2 million/year in sales. If the client loses 25% of orders because the users with poor eyesight or colorblindness cannot read the text, that would be an approximate loss of $500,000! (And that’s not even considering the loss of possible return sales.)

RISK

The risk is that our client will lose sales and not be happy.

So, here is our equation:

Threat           X          Vulnerability          X          Cost               =          Risk

.5                    X                      1                      X          $500,000      =          $250,000

I risk at least a potential loss of $250,000 or higher for my client, all because I don’t want to rock the boat and share my knowledge of color contrast ratios. Perhaps I could recommend using the appropriate tags to accommodate screen readers and changing the text to a darker color.

Although this is a (not so) hypothetical scenario, it points out a huge truth. We have to speak up if we have questions or concerns when working on projects. And, we have to be receptive of others questions and concerns regarding our work. We all need to digest that and welcome communication.

Let’s not allow our fears to keep us from being successful. Speak up when you have a question or knowledge that others may not have visibility into. Focus your efforts on speaking with kindness to help avert some of the fear of conflict and confrontation. Our goal is to get that vulnerability number to zero.

Yes, communicating is always a risk. But choosing to NOT communicate is a certainty of failure on some level. I will always choose risk over certainty of failure.

Topics: Communication Strategy