I struggle to communicate.
I’m sure that’s the reason I am always compelled to write about communication issues. I am a poor communicator. And when I hear stories about communication issues, I’m drawn to them so I can see how I stack up in comparison and to see what I can do to learn to be a better communicator.
To Communicate Better
My goal is to learn to be a better communicator.
I have come to understand that every problem I experience in my business is, to a large part, the result of miscommunications. And every solution is, to a large part, the result of effective communication.
I would like to share a personal experience I have had with this topic. It centers around a fall an elderly man took while trying to cross the construction of a new sidewalk. We designed the sidewalk but had no responsibility for the construction or the oversight of the project. The elderly man has recovered from the fall, but his family was furious over this accident.
As a result, a tsunami of threats and accusations flowed between the family, contractor, municipality, project owner, and my company.
Everything before the accident and up to its conclusion was about ineffective or non-existent communications:
- the project owner communicating to the contractor the need to maintain jobsite safety,
- the contractor communicating to the elderly man the hazardous site conditions,
- the engineer communicating to the owner the need for jobsite supervision,
- the municipality communicating concern over the construction site conditions,
- the owner communicating to the family assurances to take care of the medical costs,
- the contractor communicating assurances to the man’s family to quickly make his property safe,
- the owner communicating that future problems are to be avoided,
- the list of communication/miscommunication goes on and on.
If at any point in the process had someone had a productive communication about their area of influence, many of the issues and effects we experienced would have evaporated.
The same scenario could be reconstructed in nearly every work situation, whether it be in an insurance office, a recording studio, or a zoo.
Miscommunication is at the root of all problems, and effective communication is the source of all solutions.
Understanding the communication problem (or miscommunication excess) covers all levels of employment, from the business owner to the car washer.
Improve Your Communication Skills
I have five observations to improve our project communication skills:
- Speak up – this is the “see something say something” concept as promoted by our government. There is no reason to keep quiet when you see something that gives you concern.
- Ask questions – regardless of your level of responsibility, ask questions that are intended to arrive at a solution and not to accuse.
- Focus on honesty – instead of finger pointing, it is helpful to understand who was responsible for the construction, who was responsible for the oversight and who was responsible for the design. Be honest about your part, let the others be honest about their part.
- Act – if you are misunderstood, or discover you are misunderstanding, don’t run for cover. Speak your mind, voice your concern over being misunderstood or your regret over your misunderstanding.
- Care – be concerned about arriving at the right solution. Care about those involved that they do not continue to misunderstand or they continue to communicate misinformation.
There is a classic Old Testament story in 1 Chronicles 19:1-21 about miscommunication.
David, king of the Israelites, sent his messengers to King Hanun, king of the Amorites, to express his sincere condolences upon the passing of Hanun’s father, King Nahash. The message was received by Hanun’s commanders but relayed to King Hanun with a different perspective than intended:
“Do you think David is honoring your father by sending men to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his men come to you to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?”
Upon hearing this, Hanun “seized David’s men, shaved them, cut off their garments in the middle at the buttocks, and sent them away.”
Because of this misunderstanding, war erupts between the Israelites and the Ammonites, resulting in many deaths.
By acknowledging communication is the most important part of our business problems, we give our ability to communicate the level of importance it deserves.