Zero Error Communication

Today’s Guest Blogger Doug Lundrigan addressing:

 Zero Error Communication

“One-third trim, niner ze-ro feet, two degree up bubble!” ordered the Commanding Officer to his Diving Officer.

“Aye sir, One-third trim, niner ze-ro feet, two degree up bubble!” acknowledged the Diving Officer.

The process of relaying orders and having them repeated back played out again from the Diving Officer to the Control Room.

Privileged to observe the inner command of the USS Helena, a fast attack nuclear submarine in the US Navy, was a humble reporter.

“Captain, are these people hard of hearing?” he queried.  “Why all the repetition?”

“Son, how many mistakes would you like us to make aboard a nuclear submarine? We have zero tolerance for communication errors here.”

Is there anything we do all day every day that is more important to do well than communication with others?  Yet, with all that practice misunderstandings seem remarkably frequent, almost the norm.

In business, miscommunication can be fatal.  Technology makes communication fast and loud.  A company’s culture and their customers’ goodwill can shift quickly.  Is it any wonder that many of the world’s leading businesses invest considerable resources upgrading communication skills in their people?

Improving on a few common issues can go a long way toward stamping out miscommunication.

Intent is Everything

When communicating with others do we focus on getting our point across, and making the case for our position?  We might hear the words of the other while our mind churns, anxiously awaiting our turn to talk, but the meaning of the other’s words are often lost in the chasm between our ears and our mind.

The remedy is in our intent.  An accurate transfer of meaning between two people occurs when both have the pure intent to understand the other.  We consider the other person’s thoughts, opinions, and perceptions to be just as valid and important as our own. People in such a conversation find it richly fulfilling, even uplifting.

False Assumptions

The human mind is incredibly creative.  When we have less than complete facts (almost always) our minds fill in the blanks based on past experience.  A story emerges in our minds, a hybrid of fact and fiction.  This is the birth of an assumption.  The trouble is, our assumptions are often wrong but we think we’re right.  And if I’m right the other person is wrong.  Now we have conflict.

The remedy is to be constantly aware that at any given moment we probably harbor some false assumptions and must remain open to the idea that there’s probably something in our head that is not factual.

Submarine Approach

Are you a mind reader?  Me either.  How might we reconcile what we observe others saying, to their intent?  If we’re not careful false assumptions may sneak in.  Isn’t misinterpreting others’ intentions a common malady in communication?

The remedy is simple:  play submarine.  When someone says something, repeat it.  Verbatim might seem a bit rude, but a simple statement rephrasing what you heard would match words to intent, increasing mutual understanding.

Zero tolerance for communication error may be an important standard on a nuclear submarine, but in day-to-day living it is impractical.  As flawed humans there will always be miscommunication leading to inefficiencies in business, interpersonal conflict, and an occasional disaster.  Whatever we can do to improve our skills (attend a seminar, read a book) will serve to make our lives and all those we interact with, more successful and rewarding.

-Doug Lundrigan, MBA

Feel free to join Doug for a public seminar, Effective Communication for Leaders, August 8th, 2013. 

Doug Lundrigan, MBA, is the President and founder of Lighthouse Business Solutions in Portland, Ore. Lighthouse Business Solutions is a trusted business partner to the world’s leading organizations with respect to human capital. Its client relationships are shaped by a deep understanding of its clients’ needs, a collaborative working style and a commitment to exceed client expectations. He can be reached at

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