Communication Without Communicating: Lessons From the Shoprite’s Miscommunication
By Ishola Ayodele
In a bid to comply with the reporting requirements of the South African regulatory authorities, Shoprite issued a statement on the 3rd of August, 2020. Part of the statement reads, “Retail Supermarkets Nigeria Limited may be classified as a discontinued operation when ShopRite reports its results for the year. Any further updates will be provided to the market at the appropriate time,”
This immediately led to widespread media report that Shoprite is “LEAVING” Nigeria.
“Shoprite says plans to LEAVE Nigeria” Businessday
“Why Shoprite is QUITTING Nigeria’s retail market’” Guardian
” Shoprite: Africa’s biggest supermarket considers PULLING OUT of Nigeria” BBC
“South African retail giant ShopRite says it may SELL ‘all or a majority stake’ in Nigeria business” CNN
“Shoprite is LEAVING Nigeria and here’s why” Pulse
“Shoprite’s owners to LEAVE Nigeria after 15 years” Nairametric
Shoprite had to issue another statement few hours later to debunk this notion of leaving Nigeria. Speaking on behalf of shoprite, the Country Director for Chastex Consult, Ini Archibong in a telephone conversation with the Vanguard newspaper said, “Shoprite is not leaving Nigeria. We only gave this opportunity to Nigeria investors to come in and also help drive our expansion plan in Nigeria. So we are not leaving.”
Lessons from this communication failure
Curse of knowledge
This communication failure stemmed from the use of the phrase “Discontinued business.” This is what is known as ‘the curse of knowledge’ a phenomenon whereby an expert assumes that a popular/common concept in his/her field is widely understood by everyone else in the world. This is because the experts are so good at the topic and find it so simple that they can’t conceive that there is someone outside their field who doesn’t know or understand this concept.
In an investment conference in New York. An investor asked for an update on the company’s quality initiative. The production manager answered, “Our quality initiative is well underway. And quality continues to improve every single quarter” and concluded by giving statistics.
This was great except for the fact that while he was saying this, he moved his hand downward diagonally in front of his body. This gesture was of something declining.
After the investment conference, reporters and analysts posted negative references to the company, expressing concerns about the quality of the company’s products contrary to what the company’s statistics say.
This reporters and analysts misconception emanated from their understanding of the production manager’s gesture (a downward movement of the hand) but in actual fact the production manager’s gesture is correct technically. In manufacturing, quality is improving when the the number of defects per thousand units of production declines (hence the downward movement of the hand).
In the same vein, “Discontinued business” to Shoprite’s management may mean not entirely owned by parent company or to divest but to everyone else to discontinue a business means to stop doing that business. Therefore, Shoprite is leaving Nigeria is the right interpretation of that report from the public’s perspective.
However, in reality Shoprite was saying they want to divest by allowing Nigerian investors to own part of the business as evident in an internal memo to their employees on the 31st of July before the August 3rd report which was published in the media.
Shoprite in the August 3rd report erroneously assumes we all understood what ‘Discontinued Business’ meant. And that was their undoing
I have said countless times and I will continue to say it, “It is not what you say but what the audience hear that determines their reaction to your communication.”
The onus of understanding does not rest on the receiver but the sender of a message because if the arrow did not hit the bull’s eye we don’t blame the bull’s eye, we blame the archer.
This communication failure is a wake up call for those CMO and CEO who says they don’t wake up in the morning thinking of PR. It is high time most organisations understood that communication is not part of the business, communication is the business. You cannot lead or sell without communicating. Communication is the bedrock of Business and governance. The earlier we accept this fact the better we succeed in business and leadership.
And it is in their own interest to make strategic communication part of the decision making process. Developing strategic communication capacity or retaining and listening to an agency who does is critical to business survival in this 21st century.
This is an era of message engineering.
To wrap up,
George Bernard Shaw once masterfully remarked, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Many a time, organisations, brands and Leaders talk to themselves while thinking they are communicating with the public. They see the world from their own perspectives forgetting that their audience are living being with the ability to think and the power to make decisions.
Effective communication is not all about eloquence, talking, sending press releases or giving facts and figures. It is all about getting the audience to listen and share your meaning. The unfortunate problem is that most organisations and leaders are yet to accept this reality and understand how to make it happen.
By effective communication I mean communication that brings about the desired cognitive, affective and behavioural result from the audience. This is why our mantra at ICM Consult is, “helping corporations, brands and leaders communicate in a way that yields the desired result”.
This is because if your communication has not yielded the desired result then you are talking not communicating. Consequently, Shoprite in the August 3rd statement were talking to themselves while thinking they were communicating with the audience.
Ishola Ayodele is a specialist in ‘Message Engineer.’ He helps organisations, Brands and Leaders to communicate in a way that yields the desired result.