How Effective Is My Communication?
“I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
– Robert McCloskey
“You talkin’ to me?”
- Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver
The voyage was near its end. It was the last day of a transatlantic voyage, and the SS Andrea Doria, a passenger ship inbound from Italy, was scheduled to dock in New York the next morning. She carried 1,134 souls.
But trouble was steaming toward them. The MS Stockholm had departed New York, eastbound for Sweden.
As they entered the heavily traveled shipping corridor of the North Atlantic, fog set in. Monitoring radar, each was aware of other ships in the area, but unaware that they were approaching each other head on within close proximity. This was due in part to the Stockholm’s navigation officer misreading radar which was set for 5 miles, rather than the 15 mile limit he thought.
Realizing the impending collision, each took what they believed to be evasive action. In reality however, they actually worsened the problem – steering toward each other! In the last moments before impact, the Stockholm reversed her engines and turned hard to starboard. This action resulted in a direct strike into the side of the Doria.
Forty-six people died.
As the ships initially approached one another, there was no radio communications between them.Which brings to mind the question – could a radio call have avoided the collision? Could a simple communication have been the answer?
History will likely never provide the answer to this question. But one thing is sure. Communication is key. Not only in avoiding disaster, but especially to insuring success.
There are several keys to effective communication. One of the most important aspects of communication is to be sure that all parties have the same understanding. How can we do this?
First, explain the idea or thought as simply and thoroughly as possible. Be sensitive to comments and body language of your audience. This will help gauge how your message is being received.
Second, ask probing questions to help insure that your audience understood what you communicated. Repeat back what they tell you, using your own words. This step is called paraphrasing and will help you see how well you are in alignment with your audience.
Next, ask open ended questions. This is key. Ask questions that invite open comment. For example, don’t ask, “Do you like this idea?” A closed-end question like this can easily be answered with a “yes” or a “no”. Instead, ask, “How do you feel about this idea and its goal?” This type of question will allow your audience to open up and provide feedback.
Finally, summarize the communication and clarify any discrepancies. We can do this by affirming what our audience told us, using our own words.
Communication is a loop between people. It requires a constant focus on clarity.
What is your biggest communication hurdle?
How can you use the steps above to improve communication?