How Many Times Have You Heard This One?



Communication is the key to success!   If we have heard it once we have heard it a gabillion times.  It’s easy to say and much harder to do.  Why do organizations typically struggle with communication?  I realize opinions are like noses - everyone has one.  Allow me to offer several on this important topic.


The Telephone Game


If you are of a certain age you remember playing the telephone game as a kid.  This is where you sit in a circle with a bunch of friends or classmates.  One person starts by whispering something in the ear of the person next to her who whispers the same phrase to the next person and so on.  When it gets to the last person in the circle it is his responsibility to repeat the phrase out loud to the group. What the last person shares with the group is always completely different than what was communicated originally.  


Seems silly now but it was fun back then.  Little did we know that game would serve as a communication metaphor for years to come.  In organizations, it’s so easy for the message to get lost in translation.  Despite our best intentions, the human element takes over, and communication gets tweaked along the way.  By the time it gets to the end of the line it’s not exactly what we originally intended.  




Vision has to be 20/20.  I read once that clarity is a leader’s number one priority.  Makes sense, if the leader is not clear just imagine how foggy the message can become along the pipeline to the frontline.  Business can be chaotic.  Check that, business is chaotic.  Developing clear communication requires a thoughtful approach.  How many times have you been subject to a knee jerk memo that adds to the chaos instead of minimizing it? Part of clarity is being concise.  Despite the size and capability of our brains there is only so much capacity. Information overload is a serious affliction.  The anecdote is to communicate in “sound bites”.  Less is more in practically every case.




Love that word.  Reminds me of an important customer service nuance.  In the restaurant business. It’s SOP to check back with the guest after they have tasted the food.  The server stops by the table and poses the question - “How is everything?”  What’s the typical response?  “Everything is fine”.  Booyah!  



Ask a general question you get a general answer.  Ask a specific question like “How’s your salad, is it cool and crisp?” or “Are your french fries piping hot?” - the likelihood of getting a specific response improves dramatically.  


So often I hear managers provide their employees general direction which is open to interpretation.  Then when things don’t happen as the manager had envisioned, he’s left scratching his head.  You gotta be specific to be terrific.


With Not At


Command and control went out of style with the leisure suit.  We can no longer give orders and be effective communicators.  I know this muddies the water a bit.  It makes brevity more challenging.  WHY and HOW must be integrated into the message.  Why do you want me to do this and how is it going to benefit the organization and me?  The receiver of the message must feel like a partner not a minion.  A partner will always perform at a higher level.


Consider The Audience


I still read the newspaper.  My adult children don’t.  I still prefer to call someone on the phone.  My kids would rather text.  I still like to read books.  My kids prefer to read on their computers. So often we communicate in ways that are comfortable for us with little consideration of the preferences of our audience.  This is fundamental in great communication.  Deliver your message in their format which often times isn’t the same as yours.  


Same Message, Different Package


Don’t overlook the importance of packaging.  In many businesses the information we’d like to impart is redundant by nature.  For instance, I’m pretty sure there is not a business out there that doesn’t want to deliver great customer service.  It’s appropriate to remind the folks in the trenches that the customer experience is of the utmost importance.  To avoid “The Charlie Brown Teacher’s Syndrome”, it’s necessary to be creative in the way you package the same basic message.  It’s no different than advertising.  Why do you suppose advertisers run different commercials?  You get the picture.


Those are my opinions on communication.  I’d love to hear yours.  Do I have a clue or am I sniffing glue?  I look forward to your comments.  

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  • Thanks Steve.  You words mean a lot to me.  If we could only get our front line people to use the "word pairs" you mention in the process of server our guests.  I think it gets pretty funny when we take the time to examine the language we use.  It ranges from silly to ridiculous to total misrepresentation.  I'm glad to know you are still honing your skills as am I.  None of us "have it down" however continuing to search for ways to improve communication is key.  I appreciate your comment and look forward to continuing our digital dialogue.  Have a fabulous day.  

    Enthusiastically Yours,  Bill

  • You're right on Bill and I love the comment on the 'Telephone Game'; as an internationally published author, educator and a speaker on social media ROI, I am always honing my skills, developing my craft and trying to find the right word to say what I want to say - but that's me and when I'm in front of a classroom of marketers in Bangkok I work to make sure the message does not get lost in the translation.

    In business, communication is key and clear messages are best.  As business people entering an entirely new communication venue in social media marketing though, the options for communication mis-steps is very real and for many, overwhelming to the point of paralyzing any activity. 

    In the restaurant / foodservice industry the nuances of word pairs like 'hot & fresh', 'cool & refreshing' or 'softly lit & romantic' can go a long way to creating an positive dining experience and more sales.

    IMHO, communication tools and tactic are entering a golden age for business and we can be more open, genuine and real with our consumers than ever before.

    Nice post Bill - keep 'em coming!

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