Pick Up The Phone

If you want to get something done – you need to pick up the phone.

Sending text messages or emails to make something happen is a delaying tactic that I realize I’ve used for years. You need to do something so you send a message, thereby creating the illusion of progress. But in actuality you are putting off the hard choice or difficult decision.

The message you sent will end up bouncing back and forth in the ether and the result you are looking for will take days to accomplish, rather than minutes.

People respond well to one on one interactions. The result of our ever-connected society is that we are less connected than ever. A voice on the other end of the line is a welcome respite to the pile of emails and messages we now deal with on a daily basis.

A phone call also pushes your agenda to the top of the pile, as it can’t be ignored or delayed like an email can. They either answer or they don’t.

Emails are great for solidifying what was discussed on the phone and for sharing information, but when you need something done it is time to pick up the phone.

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.

The Only Two People You Communicate With

During the course of your entire life there are only two people that you will communicate with.

Seems improbable but it’s true; even if you spoke with dozens of people today and thousands this year.  The rule still applies.

[blockquote]The only two people you communicate with are yourself… and everybody else[/blockquote]

Both types of communication are extremely important, but require different strategies.


My favorite self talk analogy talks about your brain being the computer, and your self talk being the programming.  The performance you get out is only as good as the instructions you are putting in, so it is imperative that your self talk is positive.

I always take note when somebody says “I’m not good at….”   Fill in the blank.  Realistically it isn’t that they are bad at whatever it is they can’t do, it’s that they have never applied themselves to actually learning the skill.  And by constantly repeating that they are bad at it the brain programs itself to reinforce that attitude.

While studies have shown that positive visualization doesn’t necessarily get you the result you are looking for, it helps to have a 3 second mantra as your “core program”.  Think of it as your own personal catch phrase; something that instills confidence.   Something like:

[blockquote]Looking good, feeling good, outta be in Hollywood![/blockquote]

Repeat this to yourself whenever it is “Go Time” and ensure that you are in the right mind frame.

Everybody Else

The second person you communicate to… is everybody else.

When communicating with others there are three things that you need to control, if you are going to control the message:

What you say – Words have power so you need to choose the right words to convey the right message.

How you say it – Tone, speed, inflection.  All of these have a big impact on how your message is received.

Body Language – Congruity between what you are saying verbally and what you are projecting non-verbally is important.

Make sure that you get your point across properly by ensuring that your delivery matches your message.

Which do have more difficulty with?  Communicating with yourself?  Or everybody else?


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