Thursday, September 28, 2017

How Critical is Clear, Concise Communication?

The Communication Cycle -
Recently, my child reminded me of an important leadership/project management fact: The importance of CLEAR, CONCISE Communication. Previously in this blog, I've shared the Communication Cycle and the 8 Diffusers of Communication (1-7 here, 8 here). What my youngest inadvertently taught me was that the verify step is incredibly important and that even if you think you are being clear, the intent of a task or requirement can still be easily misunderstood.

During a parent-teacher conference with our son's 2nd-grade teacher,  Mrs. W pulled out an assignment she wanted to share. Her thoughts were that our child is easily distracted (he apparently tried to sneak books to read under his desk when bored) and doesn't always pay enough attention to follow directions. The assignment was Write About Your First Week of School. Here is my son's paper:

In case you can't read my child's handwriting (not a problem, I needed my wife to translate this one and many others) it says (cleaned up-ish):

I saw a rat. I screamed AHHHHHH!!!! Three nights (probably times) on Friday there was a strong wind and the power went out for a second. My brother screamed down the stairs AHHHHH! I did video games. I did not sleep(in) on Saturday. I met a new friend called Silas.

Mrs. W indicated that our youngest didn't hear the directions and wrote what he wanted. Erin (my wife) and I indicated we understood her concern and thanked her for bringing it to our attention. But, we both had the same thought, confirmed once we reached the hallway. Our youngest followed directions. Everything described in the paper happened during the FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL. The rat was actually a dead squirrel in our yard, which Erin often calls "fluffy rats." The rest were activities after school during the week. The problem was that most of it didn't happen IN SCHOOL. Mrs. W's intent was for the students to write about what happened in school that first week, but our child met the requirements while missing the intent!

Now, neither Erin nor I were in the room when she communicated this assignment, nor did we learn from our child what the assignment was until we had the paper in hand. And, indeed, at home we have noticed that our youngest son's attention can appear to wander quickly and he seems distracted, looking around the room, spinning in circles, reading a book, etc. The amazing thing is that when we ask him to repeat what we said, he can nearly say it word for word! I blame myself for that skill-set, as I use to do it all the time to teachers and parents all through school. Now I'm getting a taste of my own medicine!

Mrs. W may have thought she was clear with the instructions, but if the student delivers on the requirement, but misses the intent, then was the communication clear and concise? Have you ever had a team member deliver on the requirement, only to "clearly" miss why the requirement was important, or what the requirement was supposed to accomplish? We all tend to be lazy with our word choices and assume people understand what we mean when we attempt to communicate, but as indicated in previous posts we all have our own experiences and thought processes that diffuse the communication and affect our interpretation. That is why the Feedback step is so important! I've had many experiences where an activity was "completed" on the project plan, but not with the result I would prefer. Why? Because I provided the requirement without the intent. I left the intent Implied (See Morey's Law: Stated vs. Implied Tasks), and thus my team members missed the mark.

Upon finding this revelation, Erin and I talked with our youngest about how he needs to take time to determine what the real intent is behind an assignment. Hopefully, we can find ways to teach our son to be aware of the power of communication and how easily even supposedly clear communication can end up muddied.

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