Paul Newman starred in the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke. This story about a prison chain gang has become a family favorite due to a quote by a main character: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” It was mentioned just this morning as all the white clothes were washed with my daughter’s newly died purple dress. Due to a failure to communicate, every white item is now a shade of purple.
Author Michael Laroque relates, “When asked if Japan would surrender during World War II, the Japanese ruler used the word “mokusatsu” in response. Now what the Japanese word meant was “we withhold comment – pending discussion”, but when the response was sent to Washington the word was mistranslated to mean “We are treating your message with contempt”. This was picked up by the media and spread like a wildfire around the world. Undoubtedly frustrated by what he thought the response meant, and knowing he needed to respond sternly, President Truman chose that time to drop the atomic bombs. Why this message wasn’t more heavily scrutinized for any possible mistranslation seems very strange, but regardless, this simple mistake led to 150,000-250,000 people being either killed, injured, or exposed to radiation.”
Now it could be argued that the bombs would have been dropped regardless, but the point is an excellent illustration of poor communication heightening tensions.
Lack of communication is one of the greatest challenges to good leadership. This past week I gave you the challenge of clarifying. If someone said something that could put a chip on your shoulder, ask them to clarify.
Now if someone looks you straight in the face and says they hate you, clarification might not be needed, and clarification might not be the root of your problem.
However, oftentimes we look to be offended or let ourselves be offended when we fail to communicate.
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright, famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
So I hope you asked, clarified, made every effort to not be offended or offend someone else, by asking for clarification, even when it felt awkward. Asking for clarification of even a complaint someone makes toward you can be an incredibly smart move. Often times it can be as simple as this, “Jen, I really don’t know what you mean that I’m not following through. Can you please let me know how that might look?”
Careful with the tone, but when said sincerely, it can make every difference in your team dynamic.