Specificity Matters

November 06 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Just because we have given directions doesn't mean it was clearly communicated. How often do we check in to verify the message was received and understood, and that expectations are aligned?

For the life of me, I can't remember where I first heard or saw this exchange. A father continues to find his son playing in the street and punishes him while saying, "I told you not to go past the curb." Days later, he would find him on the road again and again with the same admonishment. This repeats, and the son finally looks to his father asking, "Daddy, what's a curb?" That has always stuck with me and reminds me of the need to be specific when communicating direction.

Telling this story at a recent workshop, the leader who engaged me shared a funny example during a break. 3 shapes representing people, a blue one thinking of a square, a pink one thinking of a triangle, and a green one thinking of a circle His son, who plays Little (Minor) League, was with the team before the game in a circle, and the coach was providing a pep talk and concluded with: "There's a famous boxer, Mike Tyson, who said 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.' This team we are playing has a plan, so I want us to go out there and punch them in the mouth!" A little later, as the players were preparing to take the field, one of the kids on the coach's team seemed a little too hyped up. The coach checked in with him and found that the kid was eager to take the field and was excited to punch the other players in the mouth, literally!

This past weekend, watching one of my sons pitching at his own Little (Minor) League game, my youngest daughter (nine years old) wanted to play behind the bleachers. The field behind extends about twenty yards and then drops into a ditch. As snakes can be found in ditches, I gave my daughter permission to play but told her to stay away from the ditch. She immediately replied, "What's a ditch?"

When I played Tee ball, a story my parents liked to share is when I first hit the ball, one of the coaches yelled for me to run to second, so I did, right across the pitcher's mound, straight to second.

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." — George Bernard Shaw

"Words are the source of misunderstandings." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"When words fail, then real language arrives, that rare guest." — Carolyn Chun

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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