ABC – Always Be Communicating

I do a lot of inspections on board vessels these, acting as Marine Warranty Surveyor.  What that means is that I’ll go onto the ship and take a comprehensive look at the certification, documentation, policies and procedures, as well as the actual physical systems that will be used on the project that the ship is being vetted for.  The report generated, and the Recommendations made, are sent back to the client who use them to secure insurance for the project.

It has an ebb and flow like anything else, but the last few days were especially busy.  This was compounded by being asked to return to one of the vessels in order to take an additional look at the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) system installed on board.

So I spoke to the representative and set it up for 1300.  This worked perfectly for me as I figured I would finish up on the ship I was currently on in plenty of time.  Around 1230 I am packing my things to, when the officer on the bridge asks “Isn’t that the ship you are going to?”

I look out the window and sure enough, there she is.  Sailing right past us.

The representative gets a call ten seconds later.  He insists that the vessel is at its original dock but promises to look into it.  A little while later I get the following message:

“It is going to dock XYZ.  Seems the vessel manager thought we didn’t need to know.”

This after having mobilized not just me, but two ROV technicians, a company rep, and the ship’s crew – all of which would probably like to finish up the day in time for dinner.

A Breakdown in Communication

This situation is an example of the type of communication failure that isn’t just common in my industry, but seems to be the norm.  It happens all the time and on all types of projects; from simple one-offs like the example above, to massive undertakings involving numerous contracted companies and multi-million dollar projects.

We are all professionals out here, so why does it happen so often and with such consistency?  Why can we not communicate effectively for simple task, let alone ventures so big that if they fail the companies involved are broken in the process?  Why is a lack of communication so prevalent that it has become an accepted “shrug your shoulders” type of response for when things go wrong?

These are the questions I seek to answer.  And while I don’t have it all figured out yet, I can definitely share some lessons learned and strategies to help improve the situation.

Lack of Training

One of the key problems I see with poor communication is a lack of training.  The ROV techs mentioned above have trained for years to gain a full understanding of the systems they operate.  They are trained in high voltage electrics, hydraulics, fiberoptics, and piloting the ROV, just to name a section of their skillset.

But they aren’t trained how to communicate.

When I was going through the Nautical Institute to earn my first license (a fantastic school btw), there was only a single course offered on communication, and that was on Technical Communication.  A skill that has stood me in good stead throughout my career, but not the one most appropriate to the daily interactions, goal setting, and planning that comprises the foundation of every job we complete.

Now there are courses and programs on communication that have been rolled out through my industry, some with moderate success.  But they do not become ingrained in the culture of what we do.  Rather, they are completed with an earnest look on half the faces and a smirk on the other half.

Regardless if you are a smirker or a doe eyed Kool-Aid drinker, here is the number one thing you can do to communicate more effectively.  It also happens to be a core tenant of *ClearCommunication.

ABC – Always Be Communicating

You need to communicate your expectations, actions and plans all the time.  A lack of communication is the primary cause of miscommunications, therefore by communicating more often you will reduce the number of miscommunications.

In the example from the beginning there was a miscommunication of expectation that was lost at some stage.  Whether this was from incomplete information or due to not involving the right people I am not sure, but it was certainly one or both of those.

You need to be putting your message out there clearly and consistently.  When on task, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does everybody involved know what is going on?
  • Have I involved the right people?
  • Are my requirements / expectations clear?
  • Do I understand what they expect?

When in doubt, ask.  If they seem unsure, tell.  People often don’t speak up due to insecurities, so will be grateful that somebody asked the question that they were thinking.

And the ROV system?  The inspection got completed in the end and while dinner was late, the Crawfish Stew at Spahr’s was worth the wait.


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