The Communication Triangle is made up of the three integral components of every communication; The Right Information, given to the Right People, at the Right Time. Take away any one of the three and the communication suffers, resulting in a miscommunication or worse. This series examines each side of the triangle in turn.
As they say in show business – “Timing is everything.”
In communication, sending the right information to the right people is useless if not done at the right time. The consequences can vary between minor inconvenience to major disaster.
The reason for this is because information is time bound; it expires. If not used by its “best-by” date it becomes useless.
In *Clear Communication the focus is on getting the right information to right people so that they can make good use of it. If not sent at the right time then the information becomes useless, as the people can no longer do anything with it. Or they have already passed the situation in which it was needed and had to develop an independent solution, using resources that could be better utilized elsewhere.
When is the Right Time?
The simple answer – Before it is needed.
But drilling down into it we find this answer unsatisfactory as well. For if the info is sent too early it can be lost or forgotten; especially if it was sent verbally and there is no record of it.
Perhaps the better answer then is – Just in time.
This poses its own set of problems however. What if the time comes and the phones are down? Or your laptop is dead? Or the mailman gets in a car accident? Just in time may easily become a moment too late.
These vagaries of timing are captured in the final scene of Romeo and Juliette, where Romeo drinks the poison at the very moment when Juliette wakes. He got the message a split second too late and the results were catastrophic.
Vigilance in Timing
The Right Time is a moving target that requires careful watching by the communicator. Compiling the information and identifying the right people are both largely “one and done” operations. Once you’ve done the work it can be set aside. But timing is fluid and the Right Time changes with the circumstances.
More so than the other two sides of the triangle, timing needs to be actively managed and revisited through the process. The best communicators understand this and are able to use it to their advantage by providing the required information right in that sweet spot of when it is needed, but still early enough to make good use of.
The most effective method for insuring that info is sent at the Right Time is by setting up Communication Checkpoints. These can take a number of different forms:
- Daily meetings
- Scheduled conference calls
- Observation cards
- Project milestones
The trouble with industry these days is that while the checkpoints above are used, communication is not a topic discussed by the attendees. But as miscommunication’s are a contributing factor in pretty much everything that goes wrong in every industry, it needs to be mitigated through discussion and proper communication management.
Everyone involved at each of these communication opportunities has the responsibility to ask about what they don’t know. If they are missing a critical piece of info then this is the time to clear things up.
A piggyback technique to the first one is to set up the next communication checkpoint at the end of the current one. This should coincide with a changing of gears in the operation. In this way everyone should have all the information required for the current stage, while also knowing when the next stage will start so they can prepare questions for that time.
Ultimately everyone involved is accountable. If you need certain information then you need to take ownership of the situation and ask for what you need.
That said, there is a lack of accountability in miscommunication situations that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately it is often the people at the sharp end of the operation that receive the blame when something goes wrong, even though they were not provided with the information necessary to properly do their job.
Accountability needs to be enforced through the entire chain of communication. This is done by implementing a communication strategy clearly defining who is responsible and when. This is not a single document to be read then filed, but a comprehensive program of activity triggered checkpoints that force people to stop and talk to each other.
In the Nick
Through foresight and vigilance we can ensure that information is provided to those who need it in a timely fashion, so they can make the best use of it. Our jobs keep us all busy but we have an obligation towards *Clear Communication, no matter what we do. It is what defines our community as a whole. Without it we are just individuals adrift in an organization, occasionally bumping in to each other.
Only by communicating effectively can we removed the unnecessary friction from our dealings and make things better. And this is done by communicating at the Right Time.