When Leo Durocher was manager of the Dodgers, he was booed for removing a pitcher in the eighth inning of a close game. A reporter later asked him how he felt about the crowd’s reaction and Durocher replied, “Baseball is like church. Many attend. Few understand.” The same thing could be said of communication. Most of us attempt to communicate effectively, but often fall short in understanding how to get the job done. This doesn’t mean we stop trying.
It is apparent to me that readers enjoy and appreciate ideas regarding communication. I was reminded of this again last week when the column dealing with effective e-mail use drew quite a response. If you have heard me speak about communication, or read my book or columns on the subject, then you are probably aware of the emphasis I place on the importance of both the sender and the receiver accepting responsibility for the intended message to come through clearly.
I have often emphasized the sender’s responsibility is to present a clear message and the receiver’s responsibility is to hear, interpret, evaluate, and respond to the message. But the degree to which the receiver performs these tasks depends greatly on how much he or she wants to perform them.
Executives often struggle with the difficulty of communicating to the troops. In a company building with 3,000 employees, the executive in charge complained it took longer and longer to get information disseminated to everyone. Yet, he noticed that when a memo was sent to employees announcing they could leave early because of a winter storm warning, the entire building cleared out in ten minutes. There appears to be less of a communication problem when a message answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Every sender must deal with the attitudes of receivers. Having spoken professionally for many years, I know without a doubt that all people are not equally prepared to receive my messages or your messages. Therefore, we have to be able to adjust the message and its method of presentation as we sense the receiver’s attitude. This can be a challenge. The challenge consists of detecting and tracking new trends that affect people, recognizing there are many types and segments of people to consider, and trying to understand what makes different types of people tick. What are their motivations and rationalizations? Are they happy, frustrated, resentful, appreciative, envious, ambitious, slothful, or what?
When people are not ready or not interested in receiving a message, then we have the task of helping them reframe the information. The fire department in a small town was holding a pancake breakfast to raise money for equipment. A longtime volunteer asked a local businessman to buy a ticket. “I don’t eat pancakes,” the man abruptly told him. Without hesitation, the volunteer fireman replied, “And we don’t start fires.” The businessman bought two tickets.
“It’s not what you say… It’s what they hear that counts” is the subtitle of my Successories book, Are We Communicating Yet? This reminds us that while people deal with the responsibility of being prepared for our messages, it is important for us to “think through” our words before releasing them. British newspaper columnist Katharine Whitehorn must have had this in mind when she, with tongue-in-cheek, wrote, “I am firm. You are obstinate. He is a pig-headed fool.” If you are not careful, a receiver may view you as “a pot calling the kettle black.” (Apparently this has been done for years. Dating back to the 17th century when pots and kettles would blacken over open cooking fires, the expression has described someone who faults another for shortcomings that are conspicuously his or her own.)
And, regardless of whether you are the sender or receiver, always keep your sense of humor – like the women’s basketball coach at the University of Maine who said after a 115-57 loss to the University of Virginia, “I think the outcome of the game hinged on a single call.” There was silence among the shocked sports writers until one finally asked, “Which call?” The coach responded, “The one I made last April when I scheduled the game!”
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com and www.amazon.com.