Posted by: Korry | November 14, 2011

Failure to Communicate

Last week, my captain and I boarded our plane in Los Angeles and quickly realized we had a small problem. It wasn’t a flight critical problem, but one that was sure to be a nuisance. We had a communication problem, and over the course of the next five hours as we flew the transcontinental flight to New York, I saw yet again why effective communication is so critical to success in airplanes…and in business, family, and virtually any situation where people have to talk to other people. When communication is flowing well, everything becomes easier. But when communication is restricted, everything becomes more difficult.

The issue we were facing was that for some reason, the part of our onboard flight computer that we use to text message back and forth with our company and download flight plans, weather reports, performance data and other information wasn’t working properly. Maintenance technicians tried to fix or reset the system, but despite their best efforts, they were unable to do so. And since ACARS–or the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System–isn’t flight critical because everything it does can be done “the old-fashioned way” over the radios, we took off without it.

I quickly learned how dependent I’d become on ACARS. Instead of having our route uplink automatically, I had to take the time to program it in. Instead of just needing to check the automatically updated performance data for accuracy, I had to seek it out and plug it in manually. And when I noticed an error in the performance printout, I had to check performance charts I rarely use and coordinate with the company via radio to help rework the numbers. During the flight, we received no automatic wind data uploads to assist us in determining the best altitude for efficient flight. Instead, I was back in the charts to figure it out manually. We got no text messages with the weather conditions at our destination. Instead, I listened to weather broadcasts on the radio. And when the time came to request passenger services such as wheelchairs or electric carts at our destination, I couldn’t just press a few keys. Instead, I was back on the radio once again.

Time and again throughout the flight, routine tasks were made more complicated because of a failure to communicate effectively. Everything got done and no corners were cut. It just took more time and more effort. My focus had to move from big picture thinking to little picture thinking, which isn’t where I want my thinking to be.

Isn’t it possible that the same occurs in life and business?

Let me give you two examples of what I mean. Next week, my wife and I will celebrate our first anniversary. Like any young couple, we’ve had to learn how to do a lot of things together. Not too long ago while in a discussion over an important issue, it quickly became clear that neither one of us were going to see things from the other’s perspective. I just couldn’t understand why what I was saying wasn’t clicking with her as it seemed so obvious to me. My guess is she was thinking the same thing.

And then the light bulb went on. We weren’t disagreeing on the big picture; rather, we were disagreeing on the little picture. We were both communicating using words that connected with ourselves but not with the other person. We were talking past each other, not with each other. And as soon as we changed the way we communicated with the other person we immediately saw that we were on the same page for the big picture. Poor communication got in our way, and once we learned how to communicate effectively, everything got easier.

Businesses, likewise, spend lots of time, money and resources teaching people how to communicate better. Tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are designed to help people better understand how they interract with the world. The thinking goes that if teammates can understand how other teammates need to send and receive information, they can communicate more effectively and efficiently…and everything can get easier.

Do you notice this in your life? Do you have your own failure to communicate? Do you see yourself talking past other people, not talking with them? Do you find yourself communicating in ways that work for you, but may not work for others? And if so, are there ways to fix your own communication issues so your life or business can run more efficiently?

I’m convinced that communication won’t give you success by itself, but it can make things easier. It’s the grease that lets the wheels of success turn more smoothly.

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  1. […] There are definitely times when we need information more than communication, and there are definitely times when we need communication more than information. Knowing the difference between the two and knowing when you or your audience needs one or the other is critical to being an effective communicator. Otherwise, you risk a failure to communicate. […]

  2. […] my opinion, the answer is that speaking the same language can often hide the risks of failing to communicate as well as the benefits of effective communication. I think many companies come to believe that […]

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