Feature: Miscommunication is funny in sitcoms, not in real life

Article by Jeff Arthur

How many sitcoms have we watched and laughed through about people at home, work, or on vacation where the entire show is built on miscommunication? The writers of the shows know that we have endured our own version of whatever the show is depicting. The problem is that it isn’t so funny when it is happening to us in real life.

I recently had a conversation with a client who owns a veterinary clinic. She was frustrated with the communication breakdowns that occur in her clinic on a daily basis. She said that no matter what she has tried to do to improve the communication among her staff, nothing has seemed to work. When she doubles back to talk about the miscommunications and hold her staff accountable, no one seems to remember at what point the miscommunication started. It just magically happened with no one really knowing or remembering how. There are several obvious problems when no one remembers how the ball was dropped, but the biggest one is the damage is still done. Information was overlooked, follow-up was forgotten, and worst of all, clients or patients were potentially affected, all with no real obvious solution on how to fix the problem.

Frustrating. What is a possible solution?
Sterling Price, principle partner of OD Performance Partners and contributing partner with The Values Conversation, explains to clients that communication is a contact sport. He teaches the truth about communication in that there are two sides; the person expressing themselves and the one hearing or receiving that information. Two parts of the communication equation. I think we easily and quickly forget that. The recipient of the information is just as important if not more so than the person expressing themselves.

If you are the one receiving the information, have you taken into account the different factors that determine how the person
talking to you communicates information? What’s their education, or family background? How did the main influencers in their life communicate to them? Are you aware of different life experiences they have gone through? A divorce or being let go from a previous job can absolutely influence how they communicate information. And let’s not forget something as simple as a person’s age can affect how they communicate. A younger person may be quicker to jump to conclusions or judgments and “attack” a situation where as an older, more mature person may have learned to move more thoughtfully.

All of these areas factor into how a person hears what is being expressed to them. Perhaps you don’t know all of these areas of the other person’s life. Perhaps you can work on your relationship with them to help you understand. Building the relationship will go a long, long way in helping to improve your communication connections.

As we move back to the client we were discussing earlier, one of the x-factors she has to deal with, and perhaps you do too, is the ultra-fast pace at which her office must operate. There can literally be 50 things all happening at the exact same time with all 50 situations needing immediate or near-immediate attention. That kind of pace in her clinic requires excellent communication skills and a need for continual communication education.

Sterling is right. Communication IS a contact sport, which makes it more important than ever to continually be learning anything we can about communication and how we can improve, both by expressing ourselves better and by actively listening.

It is imperative for us to understand that improving communication is a process and that we must continue to learn, step by step. Learning doesn’t happen when we are tired and can’t focus. In the case of my client, the learning opportunities for her and her staff aren’t in the heat of the moment as emergency cases are coming in, phones are ringing and clients need help. No, the learning should happen later when the pressure is off, which is why it is so important for her, her staff and us to be committed to continually learning and growing. Nevertheless, we can commit to improving our communication regardless of how we feel.

It’s not just sharing the information that is important in good communication, it is the need to actively listen and accept our part as we receive the information.

If I may make a suggestion for a simple exercise to prove my point….ask yourself, “what did I ‘hear’ Jeff say in this article?” Think about it for a minute and then go over the article again. Did I really say that?


Jeff Arthur is a communications consultant with the Values Conversation

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.