Police officer taking the report: Now let me see if I got the facts straight here? Cleaning woman Clara Clifford discovered your clean copper clappers kept in a closet were copped by Claude Cooper, a kleptomaniac from Cleveland. Now is that about it?
Owner of Acme School Bell Company: One other thing. If I ever catch kleptomaniac Claude Cooper from Cleveland who copped my clean copper clappers kept in the closet …
Police officer: Yes?
Owner: I’ll clobber him!
Some of you may remember this exchange of alliteration performed by Jack Webb and Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. It took considerable discipline to maintain the precision they wanted for the entertainment value it produced.
Whether speaking or writing, accuracy and clarity are essential in communication. Supervisors need to make their instructions very clear so the whole department or group has proper direction and can achieve goals together. Know exactly what you want to say or write, and don’t assume that you know how others will perceive it.
I remember a driver who shared the following story about a dispatcher who was very conscientious, but was not properly trained. The driver’s route was in a very rural area. She called in an emergency: “There’s a fi— on my bus!”
The dispatcher assumed what the driver meant instead of asking for confirmation. She called the fire department and reported that the bus had a fire on board. When the firemen arrived, they were very upset. It was a fight, not a fire.
What would have helped in that situation? Obviously, training.
The dispatcher could have asked, “You mean smoke and flames?” The driver would have probably said, “They are hitting each other.” Then that dispatcher could have contacted the sheriff’s office instead of the fire department.
In defense of the dispatcher, had the driver said at the beginning, “There’s a fight on my bus. They are hitting each other,” the problem may have been solved much more efficiently. Again, more training would have helped.
From time to time, we all fail to think before we speak. Sometimes we don’t realize what we just communicated, only to find ourselves surprised at the response of others. For example, what would you think if you read the following ads?
• “Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it.” (Wow — isn’t that way too personal?)
• “Wanted: Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.” (Did you ever know a cow that did?)
• “Our experienced Mom will care for your child. Fenced yard, meals, and smacks included.” (Consider having someone else proofread your work before you send it out!)
My point is this: Next time you are speaking or writing about something important — whether to your superiors or subordinates — slow down, think it through and maybe have someone else go over it with you.
John Horton is a school bus driver and a former trainer and third-party tester.
Another article on clear communication: