Never AssumeManley Hopkinson
“Could you shut the door please I need to start a conference call”
“Excuse me, could you please shut the door”?
“Hi. Hello – door please”?
“I heard you first time. Keep your hair on, can’t you see I’m busy?
So now what do we have? Two frustrated people. A bit of an atmosphere and, potentially, a reluctance to cooperate as our “chimps” our emotional centre, the amygdala, is chuntering away in the back ground.
“Hmm, who do they think they are, telling me what to do. Can’t they see that I AM busy?”
Two angry people where only a few moments back were two colleagues happily getting on with their own work and all part of a common endeavour.
So what happened?
A story, as you know, is 22 times more powerful as a way of sharing and embedding a learning, so let me tell you a story.
On the 1st leg of my race around the world we set off across the Atlantic to Boston, USA with my excited and apprehensive amateur crew. There would be many challenges ahead for sure and on this first leg, we still had to get to know each other too. There are many positions in a yacht, but for this story there are two you need to know. The “snake pit” where 21 bits of rope that control all the sail hoists and more need sorting, and the “trimmers” – the people who control the angle of the sails to the wind for optimum performance. Communication between the snake pit and the trimmers is clearly key for speed.
As I was watching my team work together with a smug feel of self-congratulation on a leadership job well done, I noticed a classic case of “assumption”.
Tesco (not his real name!) was trimming the head sail (the one at the front) and needed The Prof. in the snake-pit to increase the tension in the front of the sail – to “grind on the halyard!”
In your mind, picture the scene too; the wind was building, the sea growing. All around you there is activity and conversations as others do their part. Spray was now coming on board and reaching as far as the helmsman at the back of the boat. The snake pit was by now a wet and exposed place to be. The conversation went like this;
Tesco: “Hey Prof, could you wind on the yankee halyard a touch, please?”
Professor: – Nothing. Head down, busy in the snake pit
Tesco: “Hey Prof, could you wind on the yankee halyard?”
Professor: – Still nothing, but clearly busy
Tesco: – (his tone changing and clearly getting frustrated, voice raised) – “Hey Prof, wind on the yankee?”
Professor: annoyed, shouts back “ Alright alright, I heard you first time. Can’t you see I’m busy. Stop shouting at me”
Problem – Assumptions all round.
Tesco assuming he was heard and then ignored. Professor assuming that Tesco could see he was busy and would get to his request as soon as he could.
The outcome? Two people now annoyed with each other and the rest of the crew feeling tense too, the boat not now being sailed to maximum potential
The solution – Easy
If we do hear, then we must acknowledge – even if it is just to say “Hang on a minute”.
And if we all trust that this is a behaviour we will all abide by, then we must cut out the assumptions that we have been heard
Always acknowledge every communication
Never assume your message has been heard (for email we mean read of course)
“It’s ok, you can open the door now, I’ve finished”.
Ah, I’ll do it myself.