Have I made myself clear??

There’s a hilarious scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which a king is instructing a guard to watch his son:

KING: Make sure the Prince doesn’t leave this room until I come and get him.

GUARD: Not … to leave the room … even if you come and get him.

KING: No. UNTIL I come and get him.

GUARD: Until you come and get him, we’re not to enter the room.

KING: No. YOU stay in the room and make sure he doesn’t leave!

GUARD: And you’ll come and get him.

KING: That’s right.

GUARD: We just need to keep him from entering the room.

After several minutes, the guard finally understands clearly…then follows the king out the door.

Sound familiar? It is AMAZING how the simplest instructions can get mucked up in our heads. One reason is how very much is flooding in all the time. We are swimming in a sea of data every day. The only reason we don’t drown in it is because our brain is constructed with the capacity to shape the data into something meaningful. Less than ten percent of what we hear is consciously assimilated, and less than ten percent of that is retained.

We filter the excessive data that besieges our brains. The gatekeeper of the brain—the part that decides what stays and what goes—is the thalamus. Thank goodness for the thalamus, or we’d spend each day looking like a deer in the headlights. .

So how does this play out?

Susan, Abbey, and David go on a joint call to their highest revenue-producing client with the intention of letting Joe know they appreciate his business.

Joe says, “I love your company and the value your products provide for us. My budget is cut this year and I’m going to need to find some discounted options. I’m going to need a miracle to be able to do more business in Singapore—a very critical market for us.”

In the car on the way to the airport, Susan says, “Gosh, Joe really loves what we do. We should ask him to do a video testimonial for our upcoming promotion.” Abbey says, “Weren’t you listening? He’s about to leave us unless we knock down our prices.” David can’t believe his ears, “Where were you two during that conversation? This guy is begging for help with Singapore and we’re either going to make him or break him with how we respond.”

Silence takes over the car. Each thinks silently, I work with idiots!

Filters are necessary in our brains so we don’t overload, but most people overcompensate and filter out entirely too much of what is needed to make good decisions. As a result, we make “either/or” decisions instead of “both/and” decisions.

In other words, we don’t consider enough of the information when making a business or personal decision. As a result, our decisions are compromises. Ingenious opportunities are missed because alternatives and different viewpoints are not thoroughly explored. Life is on a path of mediocrity.

Susan, Abbey and David all missed the message. In fact, even adding up all of their interpretations isn’t the message and will not create an optimal solution.

Ideally, each person needs to be trained to recognize ambiguity, right up front, and ask questions to clear it up. Then, when Susan, Abbey, and David get back to the office, they need to be able to look at hundreds of potential solutions and fully hear each other on why each could be the right solution or one of the right solutions.

There’s no point trying to wish away our filters. Instead, train them!

4 Responses to “Have I made myself clear??”

  1. Kathy says:

    Roxanne, This is so true. It would be great to have some examples of ways to detect the ambiguity and questions that will clear it up.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Roxanne, Great points. For written communications a resouces I depend on is “The Elements of Style” by William Shrunk. Any ideas for resources to help improve verbal communications skills would be much appreciated.

  3. Todd says:

    It is a great reminder to ask clarifying questions to clear up the ambiguity and really understand what the customer is saying. Ex. What specifically do you like about our products and what value have they provided? Why is your budget being cut and how will that impact your business? Why is Singapore such an important market for you? What would it take to increase your business there?

  4. Wes says:

    “Less than ten percent of what we hear is consciously assimilated, and less than ten percent of that is retained.”

    I’m not buying this. So if I have an hour commute to work and listen to the news during that time, then sit through 8 hours of meetings all day, then the hour commute home with the evening news, that’s about 10 hours worth of audio. So I only assimilate 1 hour of that? And in turn only retain 6 minutes of audio per day? What a waste of effort! Perhaps I’m just naive, but I believe people are a little more engaged than this article suggests.

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