Communication failure is common

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

In the movie "Cool Hand Luke," Captain, played by Strother Martin, delivers that famous line to the chain gang after clubbing prisoner Luke Jackson (Paul Newman).

That film came out in 1967. A lot has changed in the past 40 years. We now have cell phones, e-mail, Blackberrys, pagers, Bluetooth, WiFi, blah, blah, blah . . . but, we still have got failure to communicate.

This is no small problem. I would guess that you have had at least three instances this week where verbal, written or electronic communication has made you think (or say):

Face it. Most people, through their words and/or actions, fail at communication.

You see it in healthcare (the pharmacist misreads or can't read the doctor's handwritten prescription instructions, raising the risk of making a potentially lethal error). You see it marriages (I'm not going there, but the end result is a night on the couch). But for our conversation here, you really, really see it in the plant. Examples?

The work order is so poorly written or typed in that either you must circle back several times to get a clarification or you guess on the meaning and perform an audible, which greatly increases the chance of an equipment failure or safety incident.

E-mail, typed, written or verbal messages to corporate, customers, etc., are delivered in a manner (poor punctuation, bad grammar) that does not convey professionalism. It's easy to dismiss, backburner or delete the message that reads "Im threw with you're OT report. Now where's it go to."

The e-mail communiqués between maintenance and production (or maintenance and ___________, or plant management and the union) are not properly reviewed and analyzed before sending. The result is confusion or misinterpretation. The sentence "It's not our fault the machine crashed" can be read and interpreted in different ways when, each time through, you put emphasis on the word "not" or "our" or "fault" or "crashed." Similarly, many times, these communiqués are written with the infamous capital-letter key locked, giving us the phrase "IT'S NOT OUR FAULT THE MACHINE CRASHED". Now, you have a situation. Add in an exclamation point, and now you have a threat.

It's not the message, it's the delivery.

The message in the "Cool Hand Luke" line is important - we have a communication problem here - but it is delivered along with a brutal blow to the side of the head. A billy club is not an effective communication tool.

In order to improve team/plant/company cohesiveness, increase professionalism, and eliminate the chance of mistakes and misunderstandings, you need to make a concerted effort to achieve effective communication.

There are non-violent tools that can help you. Microsoft Word has a new feature called a spell checker. It finds spelling and grammatical errors. (Export the contents of an e-mail into Word to find mistakes before you send it out.) DO NOT TYPE IN CAPS! Read your communiqués as if you are the audience. (Does the message make sense? Are you explaining things properly or enough?) When speaking (on the phone or face to face), think about what you want to say, and then say it calmly, concisely and clearly, and in a manner that's appropriate to the audience.

Start now. Don't wait another 40 years to address that "failure to communicate."

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