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Directional Signals: Who's Talking, Who's
How to avoid communication snafus.
by Kate (September, 2003)
(Note: Kate is a mid-level exec at an industry related
company and writes on management issues.)
You've finally made it into the office after a very frustrating
drive. None of the other drivers seemed to know how to use their
directional signals. Some didn't turn them on at all, changing lanes
and taking corners without warning; others used their signals but
never changed lanes, oblivious to the blinking light. Did they think
you could read their minds?
Now think of your ability to communicate with co-workers and
employees as if you were using directional signals. Do you use your
signals properly, or are you just as guilty as those drivers,
expecting others to read your mind?
Do you answer questions directly or evasively? Do you make it clear
who is responsible for completing a specific task and the others are
included as an FYI? Or do you assume everyone knows their
Do you answer questions without understanding what you're really
being asked, then end up with something completely different than
what you wanted? Do you speak without listening to what you're
saying, or send emails and memos without proofreading them? If you
answered "yes" to any of these questions, you're not using
your directional signals properly.
Communication is a two-way street, of course, and requires listening
or reading, too. Do you read or just skim, do you just hear or
really listen? As frustrating as it is to not receive clear
instructions or complete information, it's just as frustrating to
supply all the necessary information and have it overlooked. If
someone leaves your office and you can't remember what was said by
either of you, this should be a huge red flag.
When you talk with someone, do you make eye contact and really
listen, or are you busy on your computer, looking at others, or
shuffling papers? Unless you're truly focused on what is being said,
those communication directional signals aren't being used correctly.
I attended a meeting the other day in which the graphics department
was held accountable for missing an ad deadline. We'd been given
copies of a detailed memo a couple weeks prior to the deadline, and
everyone had that memo with them during the meeting. The head
graphics person read from a notepad of issues that had caused the
delay. With the exception of requiring a product re-shoot, every
other issue had been fully explained in the original memo.
The more evident it became that the memo had been skimmed, rather
than used as a reference tool, the more the tension increased. If
the assistant had really read the memo, the problem could have been
In all fairness to this employee and all others in my company and
yours, the workloads we have do not balance out with the allotted
time we have to do them. However, if we all used our directional
signals -- our communication skills -- more carefully and
consistently, we'd stop wasting time on a highway roundabout and
instead find ourselves cruising down a roadblock-free expressway.
(Note: To read Kate's previous columns, click on the titles
in the right-hand column. Have any comments about stolen designs or
products? Email Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org.)