Episode Focus: Looking at breaking down communication into the various components:

  • Your thoughts
  • Your message
  • Timeliness/relevance of the message
  • How your message is sent (the medium)
  • The recipient
  • The recipient’s processing of the message
  • Feedback
  • Some homework!

I’m also extending the iTunes contest – listen to the end of the podcast for details!

VOCL Main Feature

Communication – The ability to make yourself understood AND understand others in the exchange of ideas

Picture a crewmember named John in a large ship that has just had a collision at sea.  John sees water coming in and yells out to the room “Stop the flood or we’ll sink.” John knows that shutting XYZ door will contain the flood to that particular compartment, limiting the damage and increasing the likelihood of survival.  John has the knowledge required to save lives, but has he communicated this effectively?  Based on what John’s yelled out – “Stop the flood or we’ll sink” – I don’t like his odds.  What would effective communication have looked like? (Hint: the answer is near the end of this post)

Not all communication is based on dealing with catastrophe, but clear communication in all situations increases your likelihood of achieving the desired outcome.  I tend to like the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, but I have some variations on the base theory.  There are multiple facets involved in effective communication, including:

  • your thoughts,
  • your message,
  • timeliness/relevance of the message,
  • how your message is sent (the medium),
  • the recipient,
  • the recipient’s processing of the message, and
  • feedback.

Let’s look at these a little further.

Your thoughts.  John is likely thinking “I’m going to die,” and a plethora of other thoughts.  He does, however, have one thought that he wants to communicate – stopping the flood.  By doing so, he will be solving many of the other negative thoughts going through his head.  He has even identified a solution that would likely be successful, that of shutting the door.  By shutting the door it will take much more time for the water to go throughout the ship, to the point that the pumps will likely be able to get rid of the water faster than it comes in, resulting in saving the ship (there are actually many other damage control thoughts that John has, but that’s not really the focus here…). So as of now, John has a very clear thought (amongst many) that he wants to convey.

Your message.  How does John convey that thought into a message, and exactly how clear is the message?  In this case, John has yelled out to the room “Stop the flood or we’ll sink” – this is where effective communication is starting to break down.  John has assumed that the people in the room have his background, knowledge, and skills required to accomplish the task that he has identified.  What if the person was a new crew member or even a passenger?  They aren’t likely to know what to do.  I do like, however, the way that John has quickly conveyed the “why” of the situation – “…or we’ll drown” is a sequence of words that should get people to take some sort of action, especially if they are about to drown, too!  In order to be more effective, John should have added a very specific action required in his message.  “Shut and latch the door to stop the flood or we’ll drown” is much more effective.

Timeliness/relevance of the message.  Many of the articles that I’ve read on communications seem to skip this aspect.  They tend to assume that the communication is happening now and that it is relevant to all parties involved.  And in John’s case, NOW is the best time to communicate, and everyone on that ship is affected by this communication!  By taking quick action, he has potential to save the ship.  If John was to keep the communication to himself until the water started coming in the door, it would most likely be too late for John and his fellow shipmates.  But what if Peter came by at that moment to get John to sign up for a baseball tournament once they get into port.  Most people (even baseball fans) would agree that John has pretty poor timing (this can wait) and that he has an irrelevant message / improper priorities at this moment.  Peter’s message, even if it was completely clear, will be quickly ignored by John.

How your message is sent (the medium).  In this situation, John has chosen to yell out – it’s a pretty effective way to get attention in this situation (although it would be inappropriate in another setting or circumstance such as a boardroom).  Yet, there are other ways that John can (simultaneously) communicate his message.  John could have used sign language or even waving arms in case the other people were hearing impaired, but sometimes it can be hard to gain attention that way  – if you have a teenager with headphones plugged in an i-device you know what I’m talking about.  John may have chosen to communicate via an emergency push button that activates visual and audible alarms.  This one is a pretty good option too since this mechanism not only alerts people in the room but can alert the crew throughout the ship – this would allow them to take simultaneous actions to help save the ship. There are other mediums such as public address systems, etc., but you get the point.  In this case, John’s actions are pretty good but would have been so much more effective if he had followed up with the pushing of a flood alarm.

The recipient. In this case, Jane is the only other person in the room.  How does Jane get to receive the message?  In this case, she hears John yelling, so she knows something is going on and will begin processing the message (next section).  What if she had headphones blasting her favourite music or leadership podcast (such as VOCL), or was hearing impaired?  If this is now the case, John chose the wrong medium for the recipient – Jane will not get the message, or at least not until her feet starting getting wet.  What about the emergency push button?  This would have helped because it increases the likelihood of getting Jane’s attention so that she can receive the message.  The alarm, however, does not tell her what to do (the knowledge that John has), but at least it will make her ready to receive the message.  Therefore, using multiple methods to convey the information may be required in some circumstances.

In breaking from a scenario a little bit, let’s look at a non-emergency situation.  Think about how you communicate on a daily basis.  Do you prefer to talk in person?  Talk on the phone? Leave voicemails? Send emails?  Most likely, you have a preference, and that’s okay.  But what about your recipient?  What is their preference?  If it matches yours – great!  If not, then you really need to consider the preferred communication method of your recipient.  After all, you have information that you wish to convey, so it is in your best interest to optimize for the recipient.

In my time in the Navy, I have heard this great expression many times: “You can pipe it (public address system), you can post it (on notice boards), you can pipe that you posted it and post that you piped it and still only 50% will get your message.”  This is a great expression that highlights the importance of communicating effectively and in a manner that all of your recipients will be able to understand your message.

The recipient’s processing of the message. Okay – so John sent the message to Jane; how is Jane going to internalize this message?  Assuming that Jane speaks the same language and that John spoke clearly enough for her to understand, it’s safe to say that Jane would have understood each of the words in John’s message.  Yet, there are a few more aspects that we need to consider.  How does Jane perceive John’s tone?  Since he’s yelling, this could mean that immediate action is required, care needs to be taken, or that John is simply angry (ever notice how if someone is always yelling, you tend to tune them out…)!  What about Jane’s experience levels?  If she has been well trained, she is less likely to succumb to panic – she will know what to do.  If she panics (she thinks she’s going to die), though, it doesn’t matter how clear John was – she may be frozen in position or run in the other direction.  Is she ready to receive the message?  If she’s just been injured, then she may be focused on herself instead of on John’s message.

This is one area that people tend to forget.  I have a teenager.  I’ve asked her to do something and got an ‘okay’ in return.  When I ask her about the task later, she tells me “You never asked me to do that!”  She’s a pretty smart girl, and wouldn’t knowingly ignore my request, but she simply didn’t process the message.  Some would blame my daughter for not listening; I accept responsibility since I failed to ensure that she was ready to receive my message. Ahhh, the joys of parenting!

Here’s a thought – does Jane even know that she is the recipient?  In a room of two people, this is pretty easy to figure out.  If there’s a large crowd, however, people may be unsure of who the recipient is, and who is responsible to take action.  I’ve been in emergency situations (real and simulated) before; I tend to point (I know it’s rude but it is effective) and use the person’s name.  This minimizes the chance for confusion, and by using their name first they become much more attentive to the rest of the message.  Singling someone out to take specific action also reduces the ambiguity potential for the bystander effect where no one might take action.

Feedback (reversal of the process).  So far, most of the responsibility for communication has been placed on John.  But without the recipient acknowledging the message, all John has been doing is BROADCASTING – sending out a message into the void.  Communication only occurs when there is some form of feedback from the recipient(s).  Some of you with teenagers are used to hearing ‘un-huh’ from them; that is actually feedback, but probably not the desired kind or depth.  So is a shrug – it conveys a message of ‘I don’t know.’

Feedback can be a cultural issue – in submarines, orders are repeated by the recipient such that there is no misunderstanding.  If what is repeated is incorrect, then the person giving the order corrects the mistakes and gets the recipient to provide feedback again until there is no mistake.  In other cultures, simply saying ‘okay – got it’ is appropriate, but I don’t like this approach since I have no feedback on if the recipient understood the message.  The best approach may lie somewhere in the middle, with the recipient paraphrasing the message in their own words – this is the concept of active listening.

In John’s case, the feedback can come in different forms.  If Jane knows what is required of her, she can simply shut the door (action).  She can amplify her actions by stating what she’s doing – “I’m shutting the door.”  If John pushes the flooding alarm, then the feedback that he would hear would include a voice broadcast alerting the rest of the ship about the flood and what action could be taken.

What would effective communication have looked like?  Let’s go back to the beginning – John stated: “Stop the flood or we’ll sink.”  Based on all of the aspects that we’ve covered, John the effective communicator would have loudly yelled: “Jane” (ensures that she’s looking at him) “Shut XYZ door to stop the flood and let me know once it’s done.”  While he is listening for Jane’s confirmation, he simultaneously presses the flood alarm to warn the rest of the ship.  Jane meanwhile yells back “Shutting XYZ door” as she takes the required action.  Although brief (mere seconds), this rapid communication, action, and teamwork have saved the ship!

This upcoming week, I want you to be conscious about your communication.  I sincerely hope that you will not be faced with a flood, but you can apply the above principles in your everyday life.  We’ll be breaking it down into smaller steps, allowing you to really understand each aspect.

Monday – Think about how you are converting your thoughts into your message.  Is it clear?  Is it as simple as it can be?

Tuesday – Before communicating your message, think about whether this is an effective and relevant time for your message.

Wednesday – Think about your recipient – what form of communication do they seem to prefer?  Communicate with them in that manner.

Thursday – Watch for visual cues on how the recipient is processing the message.  Does it match or is it congruent with the other feedback that you’re getting?

Friday – What sort of feedback are you getting?  Is the person repeating what you said verbatim?  Are they putting it into their own words?  Are you just getting an ‘okay’?  Most importantly, are you correcting any misunderstanding?  If you are the recipient, are YOU providing feedback?

Saturday – Reflect on your week.  Where were you successful?  Where can you improve?  Implement your new strategy the following week, and keep improving your communication skills!

Video Bonus: You can get an idea of the kind of training that I have received to respond to floods, fires, etc.,

VOCL Closing Thoughts / Future Episodes / Call to Action

What’s been happening

  • Spending time in Florida with my Dad and my family – what a great experience!  More info will be available at http://chrishache.com once I have some time on hand to blog about the experience.
  • Getting ready to go to the Canadian Ringette Championships – it should be an awesome week of ringette.  Also, as a shot clock operator, I’m really looking forward to working with high calibre referees.
  • Also revitalizing the Noshing Nova Scotians podcast – it’s a fun podcast for Margaret and me.

Takeaways and introspection

This upcoming week, I want you to be conscious about your communication.  I sincerely hope that you will not be faced with a flood, but you can apply the above principles in your everyday life.  We’ll be breaking it down into smaller steps, allowing you to really understand each aspect.

Monday – Think about how you are converting your thoughts into your message.  Is it clear?  Is it as simple as it can be?

Tuesday – Before communicating your message, think about whether this is an effective and relevant time for your message.

Wednesday – Think about your recipient – what form of communication do they seem to prefer?  Communicate with them in that manner.

Thursday – Watch for visual cues on how the recipient is processing the message.  Does it match or is it congruent with the other feedback that you’re getting?

Friday – What sort of feedback are you getting?  Is the person repeating what you said verbatim?  Are they putting it into their own words?  Are you just getting an ‘okay’?  Most importantly, are you correcting any misunderstanding?  If you are the recipient, are YOU providing feedback?

Saturday – Reflect on your week.  Where were you successful?  Where can you improve?  Implement your new strategy the following week, and keep improving your communication skills!

Bonus Points:  The final stage of communication is FEEDBACK.  I have conveyed several thoughts on communication, but it is through your feedback that I’ll know whether I have been successful in my communication.  As such, I would love to know what you think about this article.

 

I’m Chris Hache, asking you to be VOCL for a better Canada

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