A Story About Communication

A Story About CommunicationA few years back I was living in Port Melbourne and from my apartment I could see the Port Melbourne Yacht Club. Every Saturday morning all of the dingy class yachts would be out on Port Philip Bay racing. After enquiring about sailing I was quickly invited to sail on a class of yacht called the Jolly Boat. This is an old style of boat approximately 16 feet long, made of wood and requires three people to sail it. While heavy, she can gain effective speed and can quickly come out of control. If you capsize, it can take up to 15 minutes of treading water before you are all on board again. I knew this was going to be an exciting class of sailing.

I was given the role of managing the main sheet. Not the most exciting position as you spend most of your time looking up at the sail rather than out on the water but an equally important role on the ship. I noticed quickly that the skipper wasn’t overly friendly, however I had a role to learn and I was keen to learn it well. While we were out racing, at times he would yell with a fair amount of aggression in his tone at me. He would communicate quite unpleasantly for me to release the main sheet or to pull it back in. After a few weeks it started to wear me down. I didn’t like his tone, nor been yelled at and I started to stop enjoying my newly chosen leisure activity.

“If he were to ask you nicely when that action was critical, do you think you would respond at the speed the situation required.”

Rather than throwing in the towel or finding another skipper to sail with, I brought up my concern with a fellow sailor in the club. Their response was not what I was anticipating. The sailor asked me this question: “Sailing is a competitive sport and at times actions are critical and time sensitive, if he were to ask you nicely when that action was critical, do you think you would respond at the speed the situation required?”. I was speechless, he was right. Every time he yelled at me, I responded with urgency. If he had asked me politely, I may not have responded in enough time which could have caused us to capsize, hit another yacht or not sail competitively.

“Sometimes tone or the absence of positive feedback is needed for an employee to understand that their work performance needs to urgently change.”

The same goes for business. Business is competitive, it needs to be to be sustainable for the future. At times, employees are required to change their work behaviours so to be more productive and competitive. A manager who is communicating without the niceties just might be doing so because your need to change or respond is urgent. If we can remember in life that most things are not personal and seek to understand our situation differently, we will have so much to gain.

As for the Jolly Boat era in my life….we did capsize, we did hit other yachts and buoys, we did come last but over a period of time, our performance improved and we became quite competitive.

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