Sorry, I Can't Hear You
If you are like most folks, you’ve probably had numerous experiences in life when, if you had more information about a situation, you could have saved time or money.
Recently, there was an incident at the Orlando International Airport that disrupted travel for thousands of passengers, costing many millions of dollars in lost productivity along with missed vacations and time with family and friends.
If you didn’t hear or see the news about it, on late afternoon Friday, November 10th, a loud explosion rocked the inside of Orlando’s main terminal. Immediately, hundreds of travelers and airport visitors scrambled, some running outside the terminal thinking it was the sound of gun fire. Fortunately, within minutes it was determined that the explosion happened as a result of a small, lithium camera battery overheating. All is well, right? Nope. Things started heating up very quickly!
At the time of the explosion, many thousands of travelers had already passed through the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) passenger screening lines and made their way to their respective departure gates. In fact, hundreds of passengers had boarded their planes and several planes had already pulled back from their gates and began taxiing toward takeoff.
Not too long after the explosion, all travelers were instructed to gather their belongings, exit the planes and/or gates, board the tram back to the main terminal and be re-screened by the TSA agents. Incidentally, the report of the explosion was not communicated to the passengers at that time.
Imagine thousands of folks funneling back through the bottleneck of the entrance to the tram and then joining thousands more at the main terminal.
Folks returned to the main terminal as quickly as possible, thinking there would be a relatively quick pass through screening and then return to their respective gates. Unfortunately, the quick pass through morphed into a more than two hour wait in line watching the unstaffed TSA screening area. Adding insult to injury, all flights were obviously delayed with most being cancelled altogether.
Not to minimize the seriousness of the need to mitigate any risks of possible terrorism and/or injury in this particular example, the need for clear communication in situations like this, nonetheless, cannot be overemphasized. In spite of the lack of communication, everyone remained relatively calm with no additional major incidents and life is back to normal.
Be that as it may, there are many lessons in communication to be learned and that we can use in our everyday lives and in all kinds of situations, emergencies and otherwise.
Very often, many of the problems we face in life are self-inflicted. If we would simply take the time to plan in advance, we can minimize if not totally eliminate the challenges we have in situations. Also, when planning, try and think of any possible scenarios and prepare accordingly.
One of the greatest lessons we can learn in life is the capacity to empathize with people and the issues they face. In terms of communication, empathy can be a great driving force that ensures people are getting the information they need and in a way they can understand.
Perspective pretty much goes hand in hand with empathy. Perspective allows you to put yourself in the position of others. Ask questions like, “What would I think in a situation like this?” or “What would I be asking myself if this happened?” This can help you more effectively preempt the frustrations and anger that may arise if you are able to answer questions that will, no doubt, arise.
Aside from not knowing the reason for the interruption in their travel nor what was happening next, most of the travelers in the above example were unable to hear what little information was trying to be disseminated due to a very loud air conditioning system coming from the airport terminal’s ceiling. If those in authority had preplanned, they probably would have discovered the need to temporarily turn off the system in order to be heard.
The school teacher in the old Charlie Brown comic strip comes to mind. “Wah wah” became the incomprehensible meme to readers and viewers of those episodes. The importance of being clear in your communication can mean the difference between life and death and/or gain the acceptance and expected behavior of your audience.
Sometimes folks simply miss the message or may have been unintentionally distracted when something of importance was communicated. That’s why it is a good idea to repeat the message, particularly if you’re not getting the expected response. Try not to overdo it as to insult your audience. But be as respectful and professional as possible to your audience.
This list may not be exhaustive. But following these few points can and will make you a better communicator!