Who’s on First? The batter steps up to the plate. He adjusts his batting helmet, twists his grip a few times on the bat and takes a long look at the 3rd base coach for the right signal. Ninety feet down the line, the third base coach sends ten seconds worth of shoulder tapping, chest swiping, chin touching and arm dusting signals. The real message is buried somewhere in that seemingly meaningless flurry of gestures. So the two had better know the code or the opportunity to score has a good chance of being lost.
In baseball, as with any work environment, the fundamental key to success is clear communication. How many times have we said something that was not understood? Or understood something that was never said? Clients are lost. Time and money is wasted. Tempers and relationships are tested. And in most cases, the reason for the breakdown could have been so easily avoided with a little clarity.
God knew how vital communication was when He stopped the sons of men from building the Tower of Babel. What did He do? He dismantled the ability of the people to communicate with each other. An interesting note here is that God saw clear communication as a tool of significant accomplishment. However, in this case, the significant accomplishment had wrong motives. But the point remains.
When people communicate with each other, it’s like playing a game of catch. One throws something they want the other to receive. The other wants to catch what the first person has thrown. In this metaphor, the ball is “information.” Both participants need to respond to what the other has released to them. What would happen if one person threw and the other just didn’t want to catch it? Well, the ball would just roll away.
Another aspect of communication is “how” we deliver it. I can throw that ball very hard to you. It might sting a little when you catch it. In this scenario, how I say what I say has its own set of dynamics.
Here are a few good rules of communication for you to “toss around.”
1. Don’t assume. Something that appears to be simple to you may not be to someone else. Don’t assume that the other person has your understanding on the subject. But don’t make them feel stupid if they don’t. You’ll be communicating something you didn’t intend. If there is one assumption, it can be that the other person knows nothing of what you want. Educate them.
2. Be clear. The English language has a lot of communication curve balls. It helps to elaborate. Make your point a second way, not just a second time.
3. Document. When you can, send written communication to confirm what you want. I once had a boss who lived by the motto: “If it wasn’t written, it wasn’t said.”
4. Ask, and be open to questions. I’d rather spend a few extra minutes explaining what I want then spending a lot more time (and maybe money) correcting what was thought to be my intention.
Remember, it takes at least two to communicate. “Throw” your words wisely. And make every effort to “catch” what is thrown back to you. If the ball is dropped in baseball, they call that an error. In communicating between people…Hmm. It’s also called an error.
Don’t leave us yet. In keeping with the baseball theme, we have a treat for you. It’s a link to a classic comedy routine on the subject of “communication breakdown” done by the team of Abbot and Costello.