That's Not What You Meant? Preventing Common Communication Snafus

Last Updated Nov 1, 2011 2:23 PM EDT

The great Peter Drucker once said that 60% of all management problems are the result of poor communication. When employees and managers fail to understand each other, everything suffers-sales, service, safety, productivity and morale.

I was reminded of this while watching this year's World Series between the St Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. What happened has already become an instant baseball legend. Tony La Russa, the Cardinals manager, twice told his bull coach Derek Lilliquist that he wanted Jason Motte, a right-handed pitcher, to warm up. But because of noise in the park, Lilliquest did not hear the request to warm up Motte on the first call, and thought he heard the name of another pitcher - a pitcher who was only supposed to be used in case of an emergency. To further complicate maters, LaRussa could not see the bullpen from where he was watching the game so he assumed Motte was warming up.

These miscommunications resulted in another pitcher being left in the game against Mike Napoli with the bases loaded. Napoli delivered with a two-run double that sent Texas to a 4-2 victory.

Similar communications miscues happen in companies every day. No one is being lazy-everyone is well intentioned and tries his best. We communicate a message and don't have the luxury of seeing with our own eyes that that the right information is implemented in a timely fashion. The problem: A poor communications process.

What if the calls to the bullpen would have gone like this?

LaRussa : "Derek, get Motte warming up so he can pitch to Napoli".

LaRussa: "so I want you to get Motte loose so he's ready for Napoli".

Derek: "Ok, Tony, let me see if I have it right. You want Motte warming up and ready to pitch to Napoli.

LaRussa: "You've got it Derek, I want Motte ready to get Napoli out".

It's critical to understand that communications is a two-way street, and if information is passed down several channels, it can become the equivalent of whispering down the lane.

Redundancy Rules!
Do you want almost zero communication errors in your business? Try this simple and effective process:

1. Tell; pass along the information - either verbal or written

2. Summarize; highlight the action or significant items

3. Paraphrase; have the other person respond in their own words their understanding of the communication

4. Repeat; Answer back with acknowledgement or correction

Think it sounds silly and even demeaning? It sure doesn't to airplane pilots, soldiers, and operating room staff. IT WORKS and doesn't need to be reserved for only life or death situations.

Establishing a culture of effective communications cannot be undervalued. We recommend that you teach everyone in your company the art of paraphrasing and make it mandatory. It goes like this. "In other words what you just said is that everyone in the company should repeat in their own words what they just heard.

Yup, that's what we mean. Everyone should repeat what he or she just heard to ensure clarity.

Ask yourself each time you give a message is the message clear, and listen to make sure that it was totally understood.

Engage Brain Before Mouth
Think your thoughts through before you communicate.

Two friends were having lunch and shared an example of the dangers of not thinking through their communications.

"I made a Freudian slip last night. I called my husband by the name of my first boyfriend. It was embarrassing".

I did the same sort of thing said the friend. "I meant to say to my husband, "Please pass the potatoes," but I said "Die, loser; you've ruined my life."

How much are communication errors costing you in money, time, or relationships? How much would your business benefit from eliminating miscommunications? Test drive the 4-step redundancy approach and see what it can do in your company. Get that? We are challenging you to try the 4-step communication process outlined above. Please let us know how it works for you!

image courtesy of flickr user, audhray