The Communication Triangle

Back in school I learned about the fire triangle – heat, fuel, oxygen – and was impressed by the fact that by removing any one of those three items the fire cannot  survive.

*Clear Communication is the same way.  There are three key ingredients to be considered.  Remove any one and the communication suffers.  Like a stool without all three legs, the message will collapse.  The root cause of any miscommunication can be traced back to one or more of these items being mishandled.

My goal is this four part series is  to shine light on the issue and to provide simple, actionable steps to ensure that these do not continue to proliferate.  By developing simple systems of checkpoints and accountability that are put in place from the beginning we can shape an effective Culture of Communication.

The reason I drill down into this is because each of the three parts are so simple, yet one or more are so often missed; both in our personal lives and during business hours.  And while the result of the resulting poor communication varies in degree, it is never positive.  The consequences range from a simple misunderstanding, to incidents causing major setbacks, all the way to an accident causing one or more fatalities.

Minor Example

I have watched this happen in my industry ever since I first started.  Just the other day while on a job I was speaking to the Senior Surveyor on the project.  He had been trying to figure out why the procedure called for one datum 1 to be used, but the job was setup using another.   Turns out this had been changed at the last minute, but the survey team had not been notified.  A prime example of not involving the right people.

As he vented about this I thought to myself that after 15 years in the industry it was the same old story.  Why do errors of such magnitude continue to happen with such frequency?  And I know that it isn’t just my industry that deals with this.  Whether you are involved in publishing, medical, industrial, or customer service, these same communication issues abound.

Major Example

A friend of mine used to be a heavy machinery operator.  One day while on the job he was operating a large dump truck, which he was backing into position.  There was a spotter behind the truck that was flagging him via the rear view mirror.

The spotter went to pass behind the truck and continue flagging from the other side.  He made the signal to stop, but my friend didn’t see it as he had glanced at the controls at that same moment.  As he continued to back up the spotter slipped and was crushed beneath the wheels.

A simple communication gone wrong, in a split second.  Bad timing.

The Triangle of Communication

The Triangle consists of the these three concepts:

  1. The Right Information
  2. The Right Time
  3. The Right People

Each of these is integral to supporting the message.  Take away any one and that message turns into a miscommunication, resulting in consequences of varying degree.  But there is always a consequence.

In this series of articles we will examine each point in depth and develop solutions that can be implemented for each stage.  I hope you will get involved with the conversation so we can tackle this issue together.

Do you have an example of communications gone wrong?  Please share your story in the comments.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Datum in surveying is a known point from which other points can be accurately measured.  It is a carefully calculated reference, which the other measurements are taken in relation to.

2 thoughts on “The Communication Triangle

  1. Great post, Sean. Very relevant to me as I had a communication gone wrong earlier today when my email newsletter sent out the wrong email to my list. In this case, it was a quickly fixed mistake with a short note of apology. But what a tragic story about the heavy machinery operator. This really shows how important clear communication is and how errors can have devastating effects. Looking forward to your other posts in the series!

  2. Thanks Nicole. I saw your email snafu but you handled it perfectly. Asking when you are unsure and correcting mistakes early before they compound are two essential techniques to avoiding miscommunication.

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