Communicate Your Expectations II

Miscommunication, in my continuing experience, begins with the sender. This typically comes in the form of incomplete or erroneous information, and can be written or verbal.

Listening to a podcast with Eric Barker of Barking Up The Wrong Tree on the Art of Manliness with Brett MacKay, they were discussing the myth of how nice guys finish last and how the more aggressive, hard charging types tend to get the promotion, and the girl. Yet the long-term data referenced suggests that overall job performance for those types was poorer, and the relationships failed more often. The extroverts tend to get those jobs because they are better self-promoters, despite the introverts often being better suited for them.

The takeaway – you need to let people know what you want. You need to communicate your expectations.

Why Does This Happen?

The main reason that I have seen during my years in industry is that people tend to make assumptions. We assume that others have access to the same information, or that they share our same viewpoint. We assume they are invested in the end result to the same level that we are.

Often this happens when we are too close to the problem. If I have been working on a project for the past year there is a level of knowledge built up that somebody walking on site their first day could never have. Yet we rarely take the time to ensure that person is fully brought up to speed.

I act as Marine Warranty Surveyor on many projects which means that I attend briefly during specific milestones. The first time I am on those projects is often when it is already very far along, and the first time I’ve ever heard about it can be on that same day. While I try to get up to speed quickly before I attend this isn’t always possible. Sometimes I don’t get a chance to do as thorough a review as I’d like, sometimes the information provided is unclear or insufficient. The result is that I’m walking onto a job site with a different set of expectations and requirements than those who have been there from the beginning.

What to Do About It?

In my own example I have the advantage of not being shy about getting the information I need quickly. And because I am attending for a critical path milestone there will typically be a large number of people on site to which I have ready access to pepper with questions.

But this is not always the case.

The key point to remember is that clear communication requires two parties; the sender and the receiver. They each have a responsibility to ensure the message is properly sent and received. Of course, these roles reverse frequently as everybody’s needs and wants are communicated.

For the sender it is imperative that the Big Three, or Communication Triangle requirements are met. These are:

1. The Right Information – each person in the interaction has specific things they need to know, while other pieces of information are irrelevant to them. Take care that the right information – accurate and up to date – is passed along.

2. The Right People – much of the time there will be any number of people involved that need that correct information, especially in a work environment. This may take place over email or in meetings. Making sure that those people are involved, or followed up with after, is the senders responsibility. There is an axiom that those who need to know the most are often the last to know. This is how accidents happen and is the most common form of miscommunication, occurring through lack of inclusion. Make sure the right people get the message.

3. The Right Time – information is time sensitive. Getting the message a day late is as good as never getting it at all. Even just in time delivery isn’t ideal as people need time to process it and respond. Getting your message out early enough for reasonable action is important.

I recently completed a job where a heavy module was loaded onto a barge using motorized trailers called SPMT’s. The external dimensions were marked on the deck of the barge to use as a reference during final positioning, yet when the unit was onboard we discovered that the drawings did not reflect the actual dimensions. We were able to quickly modify the procedure and complete the job, but had this been communicated earlier it would have saved the time required to do so.

When the message has been sent and received it is the final duty of the sender to ensure it was both received as intended and that the information is correct. How do you do that? Just ask.

The Big 3 In Action

Another type of job I perform is vessel inspections for clients. These typically take a day or two depending on the size of the vessel and I go over the ship from stem to stern, both physically and through their certificates, documentation, and procedures. These can be intensive and input from the crew is required at all times, which takes them away from other duties they may need to be performing.

Sometimes I get the assignment on the same day it is required, but typically I have at least a day or two of pre-warning. Sometimes more. Yet while the vessel management is certainly aware of the pending inspection there have been more times than I can count that I’ll walk onto the vessel on the allotted day and the crew is fully unaware that I was coming. This despite people in both companies being fully aware of it.

To mitigate this I always try to contact the vessel the day before the inspection and confirm my arrival. While I do not always have contact info available I will always make the effort. This gives them a chance to prepare or change their plans for the day to accommodate.

Which segues nicely to…

The Responsibility of the Receiver

Simply put, it is the receiver’s responsibility to doggedly look for clarification.
Assignment not clear? Ask questions. Unsure what the other side means? Ask Questions. Missing a vital piece of information? Ask, ask, ask.

Because the sender often has a deeper knowledge of what is going on, it is common for them to assume that same level of knowledge in the receiver. So when they communicate they feel they have included all the required information, based on that assumption. That is why it is imperative that you ask for clarification as often as needed.

The sender is not doing this on purpose. It is an effective technique for filtering the information that we send, and reducing the message size so that we don’t send everything to everyone all the time.

Or sometimes the sender just plain forgets. No matter the reason don’t take it personally, just get it figured out.

I am working on a large analysis project as I write this and was getting bogged down with it. Looking to regroup, I realized that I had never received a copy of the original work instruction. I ask for and received it which narrowed my scope considerably and got me back on track.

Simple. All you have to do is ask.

Working From the Same Playbook

What then is the best way to demonstrate that the message has been received loud and clear?

Working at sea there is extensive use of handheld radio communication. In other words, walkie-talkies. Due to their sometimes limited power and range or outside interference these have a high potential for the message to be improperly understood. Think of playing the telephone game when you are a kid and how the meaning gets garbled. To avoid that, the protocol for using radios is as follows:

1. One party sends a message

2. The other party repeats that message back verbatim

It is the repeating of the message that demonstrates understanding. This can be replicated in other forms of communication by paraphrasing.

Paraphrasing is a repeated summary of what was said and it is the key indicator of understanding. It can be verbatim as in the example above, or put into your own words. If the intent of the original message is understood then this will come through either way.

Communicate Your Expectations

We communicate for many reasons; to ask for things, to let people know how we feel, to express opinion. If you feel you are not being understood, or maybe being passed over for what you want, ask yourself if you have truly communicated your desire and if it has been understood.

State it directly to your boss, your kids, your spouse. Follow up to ensure they understand exactly what you are saying. Miscommunication is at the heart of many misunderstandings that lead to hurt feelings so start with begin very clear about what you want.

If you don’t ask you don’t get.

Bookend Your Day

A strong, habit driven routine is the best way to make progress towards your goals.  By focusing on your Most Valuable Tasks each day, even for as little as 15 minutes, the gains you will accumulate over time will be amazing.

We have looked at creating unbreakable habits before, now I want to examine the best time to apply those habits for maximum leverage.  A habit consists of three parts:

  1. A trigger, or cue
  2. The routine
  3. A reward

While we have many small habits and routines running throughout the day, there is one specific routine that will offer the greatest return over time.  If you take the time to develop it.

Your alarm clock will be the trigger and completing your Most Valuable Tasks will be your reward.

The Morning Routine

Whether the day is for writing, designing, or painting, the consistent practice of a morning routine is the doorway into it all. – Elle Luna

Much has been written about the power of a strong morning routine.  There are websites dedicated to it, and books full of inspirational quotes and stories about it.  Famous people throughout history have lauded the morning routine; Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain.  On The Tim Ferris Show all the guests (all of whom are world class in their field) are asked what the first 90 minutes of their day looks like.

The evidence is all around us; if you want to go far then pay attention to the first thing you do each day.

Creating a morning routine is simple.

  1. Choose what to do – list your goals and dreams.  Then for each, write down what action you need to do again and again to reach that goal.
  2. Do that thing as soon as you wake up – jump out of bed and head straight to the typewriter, the easel, the gym.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to wake up at the same time each day in order for this to be the most effective.  The routine begins from the moment you open your eyes, and the best work is typically done before the rest of the world wakes up.

My personal morning routine looks like this; I wake no later than 05:45 with my alarm, though often I wake naturally around 05:30.  I stretch, throw on my running clothes, go downstairs and turn on the coffee.  Now I sit down and write until 06:30, sometimes a little later depending on what time I need to be at work that day.  I hit save on my progress, throw on my shoes, and head out the door.  The next hour is spent running, then doing calisthenics and swimming if I am at home.  Finally I move into the routine of having breakfast, getting cleaned up, and heading out the door.

It is the same every day whether at home, in a hotel, or on a ship.  If I need to leave earlier to get to a work site then I modify by waking earlier or training later.  If I’m on a tug with no way to run I’ll focus on the calisthenics for that day.  Simple.

My one word of caution is to keep your routine simple.  Subtraction > addition.  There is plenty of great advice out there, the trouble is that if you try to follow it all you will end up following none.  Stick with those two or three actions that will make the biggest impact in your life, and only add in something new when the previous actions are firmly established.

The Evening Routine

The evening routine has one single purpose – to facilitate the next day’s morning routine.

Some people do their writing or training in the evening so will need to modify this, going so far as switching the two routines from morning to night.  But the bulk of people will have better long term success working to build a strong morning routine and working with that.  Life doesn’t start to get in the way at 5:00 a.m..  That typically comes later in the day.

The evening routine will be much shorter, as it is comprised of smaller tasks.  Creating a good one means you must examine everything you want to get done the next morning, then systematically remove as many barriers as possible the night before.

In way of example, my evening routine goes like this;  after dinner is over I’ll make my lunch.  Kids lunches too.  I’m in there tidying up anyways so better to do it all at once.  The coffee gets set for the next morning and the dishwasher is turned on so that it can be emptied in the morning then re-filled throughout the day.

I might poke around in the garage, pack my bag if I’ll be traveling, or prepare paperwork for the next days job until it is the kids bedtime.  Brush teeth, read stories, lights out.  Then I go lay out my running clothes so I don’t need to turn on the light when I wake up.  With that done I like to do a little stretching, often times running through a Founder Sequence from Dr. Eric Goodman (great for your back!).  Finally, I fill out my Bullet Journal for the day, logging that mornings run, write down thoughts, make lists, whatever needs to go in there.  Then I jump into bed and watch an episode of something on Netflix with my wife, or read a bit, until it’s lights out at 10:00 p.m..  That time is important as it’s what ensures I get the sleep required to wake up energized and ready to get after it.

Nothing earth shattering there, but it really helps me to start strong the next day, thereby maximizing the time I have available for my morning routine.  By eliminating the  mundane jobs the night before you open the way for creativity and clear your mind of those niggling little thoughts of tiny tasks to be done, thus allowing stronger focus.

Two Routines = Results

Each night, clear the decks for the work you want to perform the next morning.  Each morning, wake up right when you want to and get straight into it.

Roll out of bed, into your running shoes, and out the door.  Or push a button on the coffee pot, sit down, and start writing.  Whatever your goals, now is the time to make it happen.

That same evening, think about any friction points that morning and eliminate them ahead of time.  Remove any obstacle that takes valuable time away from your mornings work.

Finally, take the time to reflect on your day and to track your progress.  A small ‘X’ each day placed next to a completed task is great motivation, especially as the string of unbroken X’s grows longer over the days and weeks.  Writing out what you intend to do the next day can help you set your intentions.  Then checking it off the next day will encourage you to do it again.

Greatness happens in the shadows.  The hard work is done in the quiet hours, year after year.  These two routines are how you carve out the time and create the proper mindset to make this happen.

Do you have a morning routine?  Or does the morning have you?

Eddie On Writing

The following is an excerpt from the screenplay for the movie Limitless, directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper.  It is a conversation between the main character Eddie and his publisher, and it never made it into the movie.  In it, they are discussing the terms of Eddie’s advance and his new views on writing.

He brings up some interesting points on writing and solitude.  This raises the question; why do you write?  For love, or for money?

I think it is entertaining and wanted to share.


Eddie stands opposite Mark’s desk.

           EDDIE (V.O.)

But it takes cash to make cash…

Another ELEGANT MAN is there too, Mark’s boss, DUNHAM.

                          EDDIE (CONT’D)

I’d like to re-negotiate my advance.


Well… sit down, we’ll be discussing that.

                          MARK SUTTON

First, ah… I want to apologize, Eddie, if I in any way communicated a lack of faith in        your abilities.

Eddie smiles coolly. In control. It’s Mark who’s a little nervous.

           MARK SUTTON (CONT’D)

Mr. Dunham has read your pages, and we’re prepared to make you what I

hope will be a very exciting offer.


What would you say to ten thousand more and another forty down the


Eddie holds there gaze, expressionless, but says nothing.

After an uncomfortable moment, Dunham continues.

                          DUNHAM (CONT’D)

We think this could be an important title, maybe one in a series. I

have to say, you came out of nowhere, but the good ones always do – – –


                          (INTERRUPTING HIM)

This isn’t going to work.


What’s not going to work? The money?

                          MARK SUTTON

Eddie, we take you very seriously as a writer.

Eddie sounds almost regretful.


Yes, but I now see that writing, as a profession, is for marginalized

whiners not fit for anything else.

Sutton thinks Eddie’s kidding. He laughs nervously.

                          EDDIE (CONT’D)

No, I mean it, look at the life. Incarceration, loneliness,

burrowing down into your own psyche, increasingly insulated from

any truth, because you’re not in the currents of the world any more,

you’re rattling around inside the cage of your brain, self-


Dunham realizes he’s losing Eddie, and jumps in.


You don’t think a best-selling author would disagree?


Oh, if you’re good, there’s some remuneration, eventually, after

paperbacks, but at best your career’ll be oozing along like a

snail, a few thousand more copies, whoop-dee-doo, you’re “developing a

readership,” — for what? So you can end up in Phoenix on a Saturday

night reading from your own work at some holdout indie book store to a

bored audience of ten? –Half of them there for the wine and cheese?


                          MARK SUTTON

Yes, but if your goal is to have a voice – – –



I don’t think any goal will be really achievable, Mark, until I’m

sitting on a large pile of cash.

The mens mouths open, then shut