How often have you felt the sting of the realization that things could have been better if the communication between other people and yourself would have been improved?

I went through a leadership workshop last week which included some experiential activities. The trainer created activities which caused us to think about the scenarios. She then lead us through ah-ha moments of realization. During each of these activities there was a communication component. The obvious connection was that great leaders know how to effectively communicate with others.

During one activity we sat in chairs that formed an upside down T formation. The first chair was the alpha chair. The next chair was the beta chair and the three chairs in the back were assigned the roles of gamma, epsilon and delta. Per the rules, we were not allowed to communicate except via notecards. On each notecard, we had to write the words “To” and “From” before we could write our message. The notecards were to be passed to the facilitator a.k.a. the human mailer before being passed to the proper person.

Alpha could only pass a note to Beta who could communicate with all people. The three people in the back could also only communicate with Beta. Each individual was also given a set of instructions which other people could not see.

I made the mistake of sitting in the Beta chair and was quickly overwhelmed with messages. Before I could even get one message written, somebody else was demanding an answer. It was difficult for me to ascertain a priority in message sending. Even though the activity lasted only seven minutes long, I was frustrated to the point I stopped trying and spent all my time laughing at the situation. However, if it would have been a real situation, I probably would have resigned my position and searched for another job.


As we debriefed the exercise, it became clear how important essential communication was. What if the person sitting in the Alpha chair expected all communication to be run through other people? What if that individual never spoke to the people lower down the chain of command? What happens when the leader expects other people to facilitate all the information?

Have you ever played the childhood telephone game where one person whispers something in the next person’s ear, and that message is passed down the line until the last person? The message never remains the same, yet as adults we expect other adults to be able to adequately pass on our messages. When we do this, we are creating failure in our communication system.

Proper communication involves talking to people directly when at all possible even if it entails using a webinar system or other media system. It also involves following up all messages with detailed written information which reviews the information, but most importantly it allows people to ask questions so they can clarify what is occurring.

Many of the problems within companies could be eliminated by using good communication. The problem is that we believe that it takes too much time to communicate effectively, but if we learn to communicate better today then we can save ourselves the time of dealing with issues tomorrow.