Tag Archives: Interpersonal communication

Getting The Message

You may have read about a missile alert issued in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. A worker mistakenly believed that there was an incoming missile attack and issued an alarm. The initial report was that he had hit the wrong button on a drop-down menu. As it turns out, he had missed the part of the incoming alert message that said it was an exercise. The message itself also included the words “this is not a drill” (it shouldn’t have) which proved to be confusing at best and terrifying at worst.

As I read about this, I thought about how many times employees don’t hear the messages we send them. This particular employee had a track record, according to reports, of confusing real-world events and drills several times over the last decade. While I’m not sure this is the individual I would want in a critical role, that fact that he was should have reminded his management to be absolutely clear when giving him instructions.

You don’t think this kind of miscommunication could happen in your business? Well, maybe not, but let me ask you a few questions.

  • Do you ever tell your staff that it’s OK to fail and yet punish people who do so at review time?
  • Do you ever tell people to innovate and yet get mad when they don’t follow protocols you’ve established?
  • Do you ever tell anyone to work carefully and yet push them to make an unrealistic deadline?
  • Do you ever refuse to prioritize their work with them and instead tell them that “everything is a big priority”?

Those are the same type of confusing, conflicting messages as the guy heard in Hawaii, and just as in that situation the chances are good that the recipient will mishear and push the wrong button (or, as in this case, the right button at the wrong time). Putting aside the fact that the Hawaiians did themselves no favors by allowing one individual to issue an alert (they’ve remedied that – it now takes two to do so), or that the individual in question had made similar mistakes in the past,  the fault lies just as much with the supervisor who issued conflicting instructions (This is an exercise/this is not a drill). It’s a mistake no supervisor can afford to make unless they enjoy creating terror in their businesses. Now, who wants that?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

The Walk To The Next Cube

Tonight marks the start of the new year in the Jewish calendar.  I thought, given the occasion, that some of you might have resolutions on your mind so here is a thought and maybe something we can all resolve to do a bit better.

While our world has never been more connected I can’t recall a time when it seems as if people who work together seem very disconnected.  What I mean is that people come in to the office and log on to their computers, put in their earphones, and do their things.  When they need to interact with someone else on their team or elsewhere in the company they send email or instant message.   That often applies even when the person to whom they are “speaking” is on the other side of an office wall or in the next cube.  As a manager, this drove me crazy.

Maybe I’m very old school.  I learned the interpersonal parts of business long before there was IM, email, or even computers on every desk.   The nature of interpersonal communication these days, particularly among younger people is quite different.  I appreciate that having unlimited texting trumps unlimited voice.   However, when you think about it the one skill that many younger workers lack is the ability to read people.  Email and IM are faceless and can’t communicate nuance.  You can’t be sure you’re hearing tone accurately.

That was why I used to tell the folks with whom I worked that my expectation of them was that when they had need to communicate with a co-worker that they would get up and walk to the next cube.  I thought it was important especially if that cube was located on another floor.  Your presence means you are giving the matter a lot of attention and they should too.  If they can’t go in person (it’s not easy to walk to the cube in another building or city), then call.  Hear their voice.  Gauge their tone.  Learn to listen.  If those things fail, then email.

That’s the thing I’m suggesting we resolve to do.  Be more human as the world gets less so.  Walk to the next cube instead of writing yet another email.  I’m going to try.  Will you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud