Today, we take a look at the mystery of communication. In reality, good communication is no mystery at all — you must simply do it! However, in most work environments, we suffer because of a basic failure to say what you want, understand what is needed, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Let’s look at a simple parable that illustrates these concepts:
Parable of the Squirrels
There was once a squirrel named Rollie. Rollie was considered, by his own account, the King of the Squirrels. What Rollie wanted, Rollie got. One day, Rollie told his subjects, the other squirrels, he wanted a nut for dinner. When they asked what kind of nut, he simply said, “I’ll let you know when you bring it to me.” So, the subject squirrels had a meeting. Since they did not know what kind of nut, they decided that they would each gather a different kind of nut, then, they could present each nut in turn until Rollie, the Squirrel King was satisfied.
Rollie was presented a walnut. He said, “I hate walnuts! Why did you bring me that?” He had the same response with increasing emotion for the pecan nut, hickory nut, and peanut. Finally, he was presented a hazelnut to which Rollie responded, “I wanted a hazelnut. Why didn’t you bring that to me first?”
Moral of the story: When communication is lacking, you might be dealing with a bunch of nuts you don’t need or want.
Alternate moral: When you’re working with a bunch of nuts, communication becomes even more critical!
So, what can we learn from the Parable of the Squirrels? I think we can discern at least three clear points from this:
- If you know what you want, say it! – How many times have you seen a leader give an assignment or express a desire, but utterly fail to properly describe the deliverable or outcome he/she really wants? Why take a chance that teammates do not understand what is really needed or desired? It is good when expressing any assignment to ask, “Do you understand what is needed? Do you have any questions? Are we all clear as to what the result will be or what the product will look like?” As a general rule, you have no right to believe that your expectations as a leader will be met unless you clearly describe and obtain acknowledgement of the desired output.
- If you don’t know what your leader wants, ask! – I have seen many examples of followers walking away from the leader with little or no idea of what assignment was just given. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I really didn’t understand what he/she was asking, but I’ll take a shot at it and adjust later, if needed.” Please, don’t accept any assignment that has not been clearly articulated or that you don’t know what final output is expected.
- Poor communication is frustrating, wasteful, and unnecessary! – I am sure you have had an experience in which poor communication made your life more difficult. We have probably all had instances where poor communication cost us time, money, or effort. Why? As leaders, we must be clear as to what we want. As followers, we should ensure up-front, what is needed, wanted, or expected. The fear of asking a “dumb” question is at the root of much of this poor communication.
So, the bottom line… If you want a nut, tell what kind. Better yet, go get it yourself! Good communication is no mystery – it is simply a matter of doing it.