Over this past weekend I was reminded of some valuable lessons surrounding effective communication. My kids and I piled into my parents van and the 5 of us took off for the mountains. My mom’s aunt and uncle own a cabin in the woods next to a little creek and it’s the perfect get away for a long weekend. Within an hour and a half, we’d arrived.
My son was disappointed to see the lawn had already been mowed. However, the slight embankment down to the creek was still covered in tall grass and weeds. It didn’t take long for us to find a scythe and my son took to the hill like a champ until we had a nice little place to sit our lawn chairs and cast our fishing rods from the shore. After unpacking the van and settling in… and 3 fish later (we throw them all back so they can live another day) my father decided he was going to take the kids golfing.
The course, we were told, was about 20 minutes away….but we didn’t ask which golf course. It didn’t matter at the time. He wasn’t sure whether they were going to play 9 holes or 18 and didn’t really know when they planned to return. I was about to learn how more effective communication would have been highly beneficial! It was about 2 in the afternoon when my father, my 8 year old daughter and my 10 year old son drove away.
Time to Relax!
Mom and I set our lawn chairs right by the creek – she with her laptop and me with my book. Oh, it was beautiful! The sun danced on the water and played peek-a-boo around the clouds. The sound of the water rushing over the rocks relaxed my entire body. The birds and the occasional duck were close by singing and squawking happily. Even a goose came floating down the creek and suddenly took off honking as he went. We joked that a piranha (which aren’t found in PA) must have bitten him in the foot! I drifted off to sleep as my mom went into the house to plug in her laptop.
Sounds like a pretty good day, so far, right?
At 4:57 pm, we got a text from my dad. “Just starting back” Well, they must have decided to play only 9 holes. After starting dinner, we gathered wood in anticipation of having a campfire later in the evening. We uncovered the fire pit, piled small branches we’d found around the yard, cut them up, and patiently waited. An hour went by – still no dad and kids. We went back down to our lawn chairs next to the water and talked for a little while. Another half hour – still nothing. Considering they were 20 minutes away, they were leaving around 5 pm and here it was 6:30, we were beginning to grow concerned. Numerous calls to my father’s cell phone rendered no response. Here’s where our lack of effective communication really became evident!
And the Stories Began….
Most of the local golf courses would be closing at 7 according to Google, so I started calling around to see if I could find the course where they’d been that day. After speaking with nine golf courses, I still had no idea where they were. Only one golf course had not answered the phone so I left a message. The rest gave responses similar to “I don’t remember an older gentleman with two little kids, but it’s possible I missed them.” Or “We usually don’t take names for walk-ons….I may have seen two kids, but not a boy and a girl.”
While we waited for the last course to call us back, my mother called the local police station. Thankfully, there were no vehicle accidents within a 20 mile radius of where we were. That brought a little relief. Unfortunately, at that point my head started to play games with me.
My imagination gave me two very different stories: Maybe dad had a heart attack while driving and the van ran off the side of the road down an embanking into the creek. Or perhaps, they would walk in 10 minutes later and dad would wonder why we were upset and act like it was no big deal. All of the time and effort over the years to raise my consciousness in positive thinking just flew out the window when my loved ones were 2 hours late and no way to contact them!
What the &@#*%(@?
Finally, the last golf course called me back. I explained: “I’m looking for an older gentleman with two young kids, an 8 year old girl and a 10 year old boy who would have teed off around 2:30. We’re not sure where they were playing and I’m wondering if you could tell me if anyone like that may have played there today?”
Her words were music to my ears! “Oh, yes! The boy was a little taller and wearing a black shirt with a buzzed hair cut?” “YES!” I asked if she had any idea when they may have left knowing players don’t typically check back into the pro shop when they’re leaving! Of course she didn’t know. I heard my mom say quietly, “Is the van still there?” I posed the question not really expecting it to be found.
“Is it a red van with kind of a design on the side and a bike rack on the back?” “YES!” again! It was still in their parking lot! Huh? I was so confused! They were leaving hours ago! How could it still be there?
The woman on the other end said “hold on a minute….there’s someone coming down the 18th fairway. Let me see who gets out of the cart……..[long silence]…..Yep! That’s them!”
I wanted to sing, dance, cry…everything all at once! I thanked her and hung up the phone. What the heck happened? Maybe after dad texted that they were leaving, the kids decided they wanted to play the back nine? Just wait until I get a hold of my dad! Man, was he going to get an ear full for his “effective communication skills!”
Relief (and a Little Chuckle) at Last
For some reason….I decided to read his text again. I don’t know why.
“Just starting back.” That’s all it said. And then it hit me like a soccer ball to the back of the head…….
Oh my gosh! How could I have missed it? It was right there in front of me!
My interpretation of his text was that they were done golfing and were headed back to the cabin. In reality, his text meant they were only half way done and were starting on the back nine! I had completely misinterpreted his message sending me almost into a panic! (Okay, I was panicked! My emotion leaked from my tear ducts when I hung up with the lady in the pro shop.) Ideas about more effective communication in this scenario began playing through my mind.
The entire event reminded me of some pretty major lessons of life:
- Always ask questions. (I hadn’t even asked where my loved ones were headed!)
- There could, perhaps be a different way to interpret a message. (Look at alternate perspectives before jumping to conclusions.)
- My misery was completely caused by the fact that I allowed my imagination to run wild with terrible stories of what could be. (Maybe I need to stick to facts instead of fiction.)
- Don’t jump to conclusions until I have all of the information I need. (I am almost ashamed to say, I was judging the “irresponsible” behavior of my father for not texting us an update if they’d changed their plans. This came along with the assumption that I knew all of the facts, when of course, I didn’t.)
Does any of this ring true for you?
How often do you make up stories about situations or other people before you have all of the facts?
Effective Communication Tips
Assumptions can ruin relationships, careers, self-confidence, opportunities, and peaceful living….among many other things. Actually, there may not be much that a little fictional story can’t destroy within minutes.
Here are 10 things to consider in both business and personal relationships with regard to effective communication:
- Be clear and concise about the information you wish to express – Provide all of the necessary details. Stay on topic and keep it simple. Too few details will leave it open to interpretation and too many can be overwhelming to absorb.
- Ask questions – If more clarification is desired, be sure to ask questions.
- Listen intently – When information is shared that will be helpful; you’ll want to be sure to hear it!
- Repeat what you think you heard to verify understanding.
- Keep an open mind – Be open to considering a different perspective or interpretation.
- Stay tuned into the truth – Ask yourself “Is this true?” and being willing to see when it’s not.
- Watch for mixed signals – Body language can be an indicator of misalignment. Be conscious of eye contact, gestures, facial expressions and vocal tone.
- Remove distractions – Electronics, pacing, tapping, fidgeting….all can be a huge distraction for some.
- Vibrate with love and assume positive intent – Be reminded that everyone is doing the best they can with the skills, knowledge and awareness they have at the time.
- Take responsibility for miscommunication. I’m not saying you’re always at fault. What I am saying is to pause long enough to look at conversations objectively. Were you clear? Did you provide all of the necessary facts? Is there anything you could have done to cause doubt or confusion? This isn’t a quick and easy process. It may take some time and effort to really see everything clearly. Turn it into a learning opportunity.
The Ultimate Lesson
At the end of the day, the most important thing to consider is: No matter why miscommunication occurs, your emotional response and the stories you tell yourself are ultimately your responsibility. This is a lesson I’ve had the opportunity to learn all too frequently. I guess I haven’t quite mastered it yet, but I am getting better! :o)
If you’re struggling with effective communication, whether it be with your boss, co-workers, significant other, siblings, internally or any other relationship and would like an outside perspective, please feel free to message me through my Contact page. I’d love to brainstorm ideas on how to get back on track!