Friday, July 16, 2004

Analogy: Communication

You've been in a hurry all morning. You have a meeting planned for the afternoon. You'll need to take the train to get there. By the skin of your teeth you make it in time to catch the train. Ahh, but it's late.
Scenario 1:
5 minutes pass. No train. There is no one else on the plaform. You begin to panic. I'm going to be late. You phone to alert the person you are meeting. They ask 'how late'. You haven't a clue. There is too much at stake, you have to get to the meeting. You assure them you'll get there as soon as you can. 10 minutes pass. Still nothing.
In this scenario your mind is racing through all the various possibilities: Why is it late? Is it ever going to arrive? Maybe it's been canceled? How will I get there? When will I get there? How will this affect the meeting? And so on. It's possible that you will be upset with the train company, it's staff, the system.
Scenario 2:
5 minutes pass. No train. There is no one else on the platform. An announcement comes over the tannoy. Your train is going to be late.
In this scenario, you have at the very least been informed that the train is in fact on it's way. You are still left wondering why and when, as well as how this will affect your meeting. But so much else has been cleared up for you. Although you may still cling on to some bitterness towards the company.
Scenario 3:
5 minutes pass. No train. In this scenario, the announcement informs you why the train is late. It's getting better. In this scenario you can empathise with the problem being experienced and may even be thankful for the inconvenience, after-all one of the coaches could have experienced a problem injuring it's passengers. It could have been your coach.
Scenario 4:
On arrival, and every 5 minutes thereafter, the announcement informs you why the train is late, and provides you with an update of when it is likely to arrive or how far they are with the problem.
We can keep adding to these scenarios. If we know the exact time to expect arrival then that stands you in good stead for planning the rest of your day. If we apply reward or incentive on top (reduction in ticket price, free coffee, offer of alternate transport), the situation improves even further.
Sometimes we are unable to offer the answer, but we can still communicate. For whatever reason we've learnt that "no news is good news" is true for any situation. Not knowing the answer is less desirable than having it, but not communicating anything at all is worse.
Promote communication, whatever it may be. Learn to accept that you may not get the answer you want. After all, with the information you do get, it's better than what you were left thinking without it.
"No news is good news, any news is better!"

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