“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”

Peter Drucker

Alex was a senior sales manager for an electronics company. A glitch developed in the IT system. She notified the IT department and, within 15 minutes, the problem had been resolved.

But when the phone calls started to come in from irate customers, it was immediately obvious that the system still had a glitch in it. On investigation, the continuing cause was found to be because the sales manager had misinterpreted what the IT manager’s email said. It was a failure in technical communication.

Once the problem had been fixed, the IT manager had emailed Alex and said “You should be all set, Alex”. So She interpreted this as meaning all was well and sent back an email with one word ”right”. Her style was to quickly deal with a problem and then move on to the next item on her to-do list.

But within an hour, customer were on the phone asking why the IT system was unresponsive. So she went back and re-read the trail of emails from a different perspective and immediately saw what had happened. “You should be all set”, what did that actually mean? The person in charge shared “fix it”. The technical guy “fixed it” and told the IT manager “fixed”. He then told Alex “should be all set”. In reality it had been fixed but it had to be “Reset” which was an additional step before external IT communication was re-established.

Nobody asked for clarification, including Alex. Why should she as she had been told “You should be all set”. Had she taken the time to clarify what was actually meant, the last step would have been implemented. As a result, the company lost a great deal of customer goodwill.

Communication is a basic fact of human existence. Developing awareness around our communication style and how it affects others can have a major impact in an organisation. Just as it is important to listen for what is not said in verbal communication, emails must be treated with equal care. Do not make assumptions.