Ill Communication

Some people think that instead of focusing on “what should I say?” or “how can I get my point of view across?” (i.e. the content of your message), you should focus on the goal you’re trying to achieve (the mission) instead.

Some suggestions for mission based communications might include asking yourself:

  • What is the goal – how will things be different when communication has taken place?
  • Who is the audience – what do they care about right now and what do I want them to care about once I’m done communicating? Also, what might prevent the audience from caring about it?
  • How should I engage the audience – so that they care about what I have to say?
  • What does the audience need to see me do, hear me say, or hear others say about me in order to care about my message?

That’s ok advice, as far as it goes. Clearly the guys below might have benefited from it… They’re talking about a baseball team – where player Who is on first base, player What’s is on second, and player I Don’t Know is on third base… In case you’re wondering. 🙂

Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.
Costello: Are you the manager?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: You gonna be the coach too?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: And you don’t know the fellows’ names?
Abbott: Well I should.
Costello: Well then who’s on first?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: I mean the fellow’s name.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The guy on first.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The first baseman.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The guy playing…
Abbott: Who is on first!
Costello: I’m asking YOU who’s on first.
Abbott: That’s the man’s name.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.
Abbott: That’s it.
Costello: That’s who?
Abbott: Yes.
PAUSE
Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?
Abbott: Certainly.
Costello: Who’s playing first?
Abbott: That’s right.
Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?
Abbott: Every dollar of it.
Costello: All I’m trying to find out is the fellow’s name on first base.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The guy that gets…
Abbott: That’s it.
Costello: Who gets the money…
Abbott: He does, every dollar. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.
Costello: That’s who’s name?
Abbott: Yes.
Costello: Well go ahead and tell me.
Abbott: That’s it.
Costello: That’s who?
Abbott: Yes.
PAUSE
Costello: Look, you gotta first baseman?
Abbott: Certainly.
Costello: Who’s playing first?
Abbott: That’s right.
Costello: When you pay off the first baseman every month, who gets the money?
Abbott: Every dollar of it.
Costello: All I’m trying to find out is the fellow’s name on first base.
Abbott: Who.
Costello: The guy that gets…
Abbott: That’s it.
Costello: Who gets the money…
Abbott: He does, every dollar. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects it.
Costello: Whose wife?
Abbott: Yes.


This goes on for some time. You can watch the full sketch here, if you want to.The conversation above is obviously an exaggeration, but we’ve all had moments when we’ve communicated at cross purposes.

When you’re communicating, it’s good to know what you want to say, and how you think you should say it; to have a plan. But as Helmuth von Moltke says, plans rarely “survive first contact with the enemy.”

Or as Mike Tyson puts it –

You have a plan up until the moment you’re punched in the face.

To communicate effectively you need to be able to adapt to the changing needs of your audience. If they’re not understanding what you’re saying to them, it’s time to step back and reassess how your message might be expressed differently, so that they do understand it – and so that you achieve your desired goal.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve found the teachings and philosophy of Non-Violent Communication to be pretty helpful with that, but there’s plenty of other places to start. Dave Thomas’s recommendations for agility below for example. I’ve adjusted them slightly to illustrate my point.

  • Find out where you are – Process what has been said so far. Consider your relationship to the person you’re speaking with. Observe non-verbal cues (posture, movements, eye-contact etc).
  • Take a small step towards your goal – Start talking
  • Adjust your understanding based on what you learned – Stop talking. Start listening.
  • Repeat

What’s important during communication isn’t just your goal as a speaker. It’s much more important to pay attention to the feedback loop you create during your communications. If you’re not listening to what your audience is telling you, either verbally, or non-verbally – then it doesn’t matter how well planned your message is, or what your goals are. You ain’t going to achieve them.

- Simon

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