The lack of communication can have serious consequences. Information can be misconstrued. Relationships damaged. Productivity slowed. Or sometimes, it can simply leave a bad taste in your mouth. Let me explain.
Early in our marriage, my wife and I lived on hilly, winding Windsor Drive in Homewood – a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Our little cottage was surrounded by vacant lots giving it a bucolic, peaceful appearance in the heart of the city. Inside our home, however, it was DEFCON 5 or, for the younger generation, Terror Threat Orange.
The reason why? My wife and I had three boys within 47 months. The mid to late 1990’s were a blur. I only have a vague recollection of the dot com bubble. Y2K didn’t bother me because I didn’t know about it until 2002! One memorable event does stand out from that time frame, however, and in our family folklore we simply call it The Toothbrush Story. It goes like this…
On any given Sunday during those turbulent 1990’s, you could find our family preparing to go to church. Despite the difficulty of going to church, my wife and I routinely attended hoping that the demons that had inhabited our home would be cast out before they left for kindergarten.
This particular Sunday, like most, we were running late. I was just about ready when my wife Christy requested that I put some Cheerios in the diaper bag in case one of the evil minions turned holy terror during the service. I dutifully went to the kitchen to stock the inventory while Christy went to brush her teeth. When she entered the bathroom, she saw our nearly three year old perched at the top of his potty training stairs in front of the toilet. He looked like one of those innocent cherubs spraying water in a fountain. Good boy! Way to avoid an accident at church!
His ten month old little brother had a ring side seat. Literally. He was fascinated with his older sibling’s talent. With one hand, he held on to the toilet bowl rim for balance. With the other, his little fingers gripped my wife’s toothbrush which he was using to “catch” the stream produced by his older brother. Both of them were giggling. My wife scolded the boys and took her toothbrush and laid it on the sink. Because we were already late, she proceeded to use my toothbrush and shooed the children out of the bathroom.
My work in the kitchen finished, I, too, was in need of dental hygiene, so I went into the same bathroom just vacated by wife and the little ones. I opened the medicine cabinet to retrieve my toothbrush but it was missing. Great, now we are going to be even later. To save time, I lathered up my wife’s toothbrush lying on the sink and went to find her. We often fought about time in those days. My high regard of it, and her blatant disregard of it. I stormed out so I could remind her of this.
I found her and my missing toothbrush in another bathroom. “Hurry up,” I urged with a mouthful of toothpaste, “we are going to be late!” I paused, then said, “And why did you use my toothbrush?”
“Because that one,” she said as she pointed to the one I was using, “was peed on.”
I have played that morning over in my mind many times to determine if my misfortune could have been avoided. My conclusion? The lack of communication significantly influenced our actions. And isn’t that the case in many instances when things go awry? Specifically, when people have a hiccup with communication, it usually hinges on three critical assumptions that are made by the owner of the information, which in today’s story, was my wife.
ASSUMPTION 1 – They’ll figure it out
With the information I was presented, there is no way on earth I could have concluded NOT to use my wife’s soiled toothbrush. The data was incomplete. How often do we share general or partially complete information thinking that those receiving the data are smart…they’ll get what we mean. When my toothbrush was missing and my wife’s right there, I naturally concluded that she must have used mine by mistake because we were in a hurry. The result was a gag by me and a hysterical laugh by my wife. But what if the information was critical to your business? The lack of time is no excuse. Make time to fill in the gaps, to be clear. Help those on the receiving end of the information by giving them all of it.
ASSUMPTION 2 – They’ll hear it from someone else who was at the meeting
Who was I supposed to hear it from in this case? The guilty toddlers? Even at that age they had learned to let the justice system run its course – why incriminate themselves before being put on the stand? Mum’s the word, bro. Taking time is not the foe here, it is making the effort. You can always point out a seasoned leader when a meeting is about to conclude. She always recaps what was said, who is doing what, how it will be done, and when results are expected. Another thing she does is this: she identifies and includes those who are on “a need to know basis” to make sure they are in the loop. Wish she would have been in our bathroom that morning…
ASSUMPTION 3 – They don’t want to hear what I have to say
According to my wife, for a fleeting moment she entertained the thought of telling me what happened, but she was fearful that I would yell at her and the boys. She was probably right. But, having that knowledge would have changed my behavior. How much time and energy is wasted at your company because people are operating under misinformation? People may initially be upset when communicated with candidly, as I did when I discovered my tainted toothbrush, but in the end they will respect your honesty. Remember, people act based on the communication they receive, so share your information to guide their behavior. Kicking the can down the road doesn’t help either one of you.
We’ve all heard the cliché how assuming can be hazardous for both parties involved. The take home message from this business tale? Without a concerted effort to clearly communicate, urine trouble.