top of page
  • Writer's pictureRussell Lookadoo

"What we've got here is failure to communicate..."

Constant connection, constant contact, constant access. Never in history have there been more methods and tools to communicate. We are instantly in touch with anyone, anywhere in the world. In an interview Steve Jobs described the power of this communication when, as a teenager, he hacked into an ATT trunk line and called people all over the world. Once he actually talked with an official in the Vatican. That was in the 60’s. Today, in our hands we have the technology to talk, text, video call anyone, anywhere. So why do we have such poor communication with each other?

Our work environment is fraught with disagreement, lapses in understanding and often conflict. Even with the best technology, communication is frequently flawed. Perhaps it is because we utilize the best technology.

UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology Albert Mehrabian, in his book Silent Messages, that only 7% of communication are the words themselves. The remaining 93% is broken down as 38% auditory (tone, pace and visual) and 55% visual (body language).

Case in point: last season, the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks played an intense wildcard playoff game. The game, one of the coldest ever played was a defensive struggle. The visiting Seahawks scored a field goal to take the lead 10-9 with just over 8 minutes remaining. The home team lined up for a 27-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining. Interestingly both radio broadcast networks used the same phrase to describe the play: “Did you see that, I can’t believe it”. Based on reading the words, without benefit of hearing the broadcast or seeing the game, can you tell who won?

While the percentages can be debated, the point is clear. If you rely on emails, instant messaging, or texting to make a point, you will likely fail. Any emotion, emphasis, or confirmation of the message will not be conveyed. Humor, particularly sarcasm often is misunderstood and problematic. Get up and talk. Never argue or express frustration electronically.

Sending the message is only half of the communication process. To be successful, the message must be received. Key to this is the skill of listening. We are taught to talk, to read and to write, but when were you ever taught to listen.

Listening is one of the most valuable skills a person can develop. Here are some tips to improve your listening:

  1. Be open. Being open means forgetting (or at least setting aside) everything you know about the person or the topic and listening with every ounce of your attention.

  2. Be interested. Most people try to be interesting when they should be interested. To be a truly successful listener, you must be curious about and fascinated by the way another person's mind works.

  3. Be present. Don't be distracted. Give your full attention to the conversation. Don't let your eyes wander if someone enters the room or passes by. Don't answer your cellphone or check your watch. These are all signals to the other person that what is being said isn't important to you.

  4. Be silent. We are equipped from the factory with two ears and one mouth for a reason. It is impossible to listen when you are talking.

  5. Repeat or rephrase the other person’s message when asking a question. This is particularly useful in a disagreement. Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

  6. Don't interrupt. Resist the urge to respond immediately to something the other person says. Learn how to hold your thoughts until it's your turn. Speaking just for the sake of speaking won't add to the conversation. It's more likely to derail it.

  7. Ask for clarification. You are not a mind reader. If the other person uses jargon or terms you don't understand, or makes statements that confuse you, ask, "When you say ____, what do you mean?" Or, "Can you expand or give me an example of ____?"

Being effective is a combination of planning, communication and execution. Failure is almost always due to communication. In the 1967 Paul Newman classic film, “Cool Hand Luke” the Captain of the chain gang said that his punishment of Luke was due to a failure to communicate. You can avoid punishing your colleagues, employees, vendors and customers through effective communication.

Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings over three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at

17 views0 comments


bottom of page