Overcoming stigmas and communication challenges

May 10, 2010
Joel Leonard, contributing editor, asks are communication failures affecting your facility.

Right now, I’m a little concerned about the communication problems and stereotypical misperceptions that inhibit productive conversation. I’m about to depart on a worldwide crusade to fight the skilled labor shortage by speaking at the PIRM Conference in Atlanta; the Euromaintenance Conference in Verona, Italy; the Engineering Management Congress in Dubai, UAE; and at the ICOMS Asset Management Council in Adelaide, Australia. It’s a 60,000 air-mile journey to communicate with people around the globe, but I can’t seem to even understand the corner grocery clerk.

My better half was enduring the change of seasons and battling various forms of colds, cruds, flus, etc. At midnight, she demanded that I go to the store to fetch a bottle of Nyquil. OK, dear, whatever it takes to make you happy.

So, I traveled through the eeriness of darkness to the 24-hour supermarket, where the night shift was at work. After gathering the medicine and some other items, I walked up to the only cashier. He barked out one word: “Eight!” I didn’t know if he was limiting the number of items I could purchase, wondering if I’d had dinner or expressing how little he loved me. Since it was midnight on April 7, was he saying it was now April 8? He said it again: “Eight!”

I waited and looked at him with bewilderment until he finally explained, “Sir, will check you out on checkout line 8 after I finish cleaning checkout line 6.”


How was I to know that was what his “Eight!” meant? Was he so tired, lazy or involved in his own world that he could not make the effort to provide the communication needed to close the sale?

Because I had nowhere to be at midnight, I informed him of the various interpretations, permutations and possibilities I could have derived from his exclamation. I explained my bewildered experience loudly and voluminously, embarrassing him as his late-night colleagues bit their lips trying not to burst into laughter.

When I left, instead of saying “Good night” or “Good-bye,” I barked out, “Petunia.” He looked at me with the same bewildered look I must have given him. I said, “See how it feels?” and walked out the door. I think he’ll make a little more effort to communicate more effectively.

In this twitterful, 140-character and acronym-saturated world, people are no longer communicating, but barking out the briefest form of expression and expecting others to understand. As Foster Martin so eloquently stated in the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Do you have similar problems in your facilities? Do your departments work cohesively, or do they bark out abbreviated commands that diminish understanding and performance?

My communications outside the Southeastern United States generally require multiple steps. I get a warm reception after the moderator introduces me, but as soon as I open my mouth and expose my southern drawl, many attendees obviously mentally subtract 40 IQ points from me. They equate my dialect to episodes of “Cops” or someone who just walked in from the cornfields of Hooterville.

That used to upset me, because they were focused on the way I communicated and missed the my message. But more companies are experiencing the maintenance crisis, and I’ve learned proven techniques and developed new methods to mitigate these serious business challenges. Where they used to discount me, now it’s gratifying to see their eyes bug out and jaws drop as they learn about the potential power to be gained by developing interactive 3-D training tools, implementing the Reliability Vortex or setting up Break Through Training programs in their area.

Do you have communication challenges, stigmas and stereotypes to overcome? How do you confront these issues? Please share. And stay tuned to future Crisis Corner columns and episodes of Skill TV, where I will share the interesting interactions captured on this worldwide journey to fight the maintenance crisis.

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected]

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