I recently returned from a wonderfully refreshing vacation in Newport, R.I., a city I’ve visited many times. The whole city is charming, but one of my favorite places has always been Cliff Walk, a trail that runs along the coastline. Even on the foggy day I took these photos, you can see the appeal.
Not surprisingly, the gorgeous views of the ocean and of Newport’s famous seaside “cottages” make Cliff Walk a popular tourist destination. Much of the path is paved and makes for an easy stroll, but there are parts that are quite rocky and uneven. I enjoy hiking, so I’m undeterred by those sections. However, I met quite a few people along my walk who didn’t seem prepared for those parts: older couples and parents with small children. As I waited for her to gingerly climb down a steep rock, one woman turned to me and said “Well, this was a mistake!” She smiled as she said it, but it was obvious that at least part of her regretted taking the trek.
I didn’t think too much about it until I finished my two-mile stretch and saw this posted on the ground for people coming in the opposite direction:
It says—at least, I think it says—“Next exit 1 ½ miles – Path becomes rocky and uneven – If you are unsure of your capabilities, turn back.” That certainly explained why so many people appeared unprepared for the difficult parts. The sign was strangely placed, requiring people to look down to even see it, which was unlikely considering the views. Moreover, it was nearly impossible to read, with a third of the message disintegrated by time and the elements!
That ineffectual warning sign reminded me of how important clear communication is in our workplaces. As a leader within your organization, it’s your responsibility to be on the lookout for problematic messages and communication breakdowns like the one on Cliff Walk. They might be literal signs, such as a safety message that’s in an ineffective location and, thus, jeopardizing your team. More likely, though, the problematic messages won’t be found on a sign at all. They’ll be unclear directions that cause your staff unnecessary frustration and stress, discrepancies between what you claim to value and how you act, or unintentionally offensive comments that leave team members stewing angrily for weeks.
In my experience, most people want to do the right thing. Those people on Cliff Walk didn’t want to endanger themselves or hold up others on the path. Most of them probably wouldn’t have attempted that section if they’d known what to expect. Your staff is the same way. They want to do good work. They don’t want to upset you or their colleagues. Make sure you—and your organization at large—are communicating clearly. What does “good work” look like in your organization? What are your expectations of your team members? Don’t leave those important messages to chance.
Have you experienced communication breakdowns with your staff? C3: Clear Concise Communication will provide you with the tools you need to become a more effective communicator and leader.
[Image Sources: Catherine Ahern]