Monday, April 27, 2015

Communicating with Clarity

Recently a truck was allowed in our plant with serious gaps in safety requirements. The root cause - Clarity in communication. The concerned Manager had asked to change priority for loading a truck. The security sent the vehicle even with the gaps in safety assuming the instruction from the manager could not be questioned. In another organization, at a different time, the same root cause led to charging of a wrong material in a batch resulting in an off-grade.

In the first case, the concerned security person was called and counselled. The incident was shared with all other security people to ensure that learning was not confined to a single person. It was stressed that the safety superseded everything else.

In the second case, the organization incorporated a long clarifying statement in all of their product SOPs. The Panel operator would confirm from the Field operator if he had charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z and the Field operator was required to reconfirm verbatim that he has charged X kg of Y material in vessel Z. This action successfully eliminated the charging of wrong material in any future batches.

Both the organizations learnt from their mistakes and moved on. Many organizations today find themselves spending time on conducting root cause analysis for similar incidents and trying to find corrective ways to seemingly insurmountable problem.

We have very clear understanding of our ideas in our own minds and we think that other person has understood what we have said or what we want. However it is like the game of Tappers and Guessers. 

In this game the tappers are asked to tap a tune of a well-known song and Guessers are supposed to guess it. Since the tappers know the song, as they tap they can clearly hear it in their heads complete with rhythm and lyrics. When asked about their thinking on the probability of Guessers guessing the correct the song and they would respond "Ninety five percent". However the average score of this game is only "Three percent". What is clear as a bell to the tappers is just disconnected dots of sound to Guessers. You need to connect the dots.

One method, that I have found useful in this situation is to confirm the understanding of the other person.

Simply ask “What’s your understanding of what was just discussed?”

Some people resist this idea of asking. They think this displays lack of trust or raises the question on another person’s understanding. It can be easily dealt with if you think that you are actually checking your own ability to explain rather than other person’s ability to understand.

This goes a long way in making our communication clear. It will also take you closer to the art and science of leadership.

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