20 October 2009

Nobody knows that nobody knows

“Ohhh,” the tech said over the phone. “I understand now what you’re saying.” I was glad because I was running out of ways to say what I had already said. The buildings location was so clear to me and I thought I had explained clearly where the new building was. Unfortunately, the building was also clear to the tech and my directions did little to clarify the situation.

Boss had questioned me about the installation of some communications equipment. I deferred to the tech’s judgment, thinking he knew best. He had been out to the site and knew what was needed, right? Boss kept questioning though, so I finally broke down and called the tech. I was wrong; he hadn’t been out to the sight. He was going off his memory of the original installation. He didn’t know that we had added two more buildings after the initial installation, and they were on the opposite side of the pad from what he thought.

This was a classic example of lateral communication breakdown, mostly because of distance. Boss and I were communicating via email because I was out of state, the tech and I always talked over the phone except when he was on-site doing work. Some important concerns were being lost in the communication methods being used. I didn’t understand from Boss that the tech was convinced that we need to mount communication equipment at the opposite end of the complex, the tech didn’t understand that we had added new buildings in different places and Boss didn’t understand why the tech didn’t want to put the equipment in the logical place.

It took me several minutes, most of the call, to realize that the tech didn’t know about the new buildings but once he knew about the new buildings he readily agreed that the equipment should be placed where the rest of us thought it should be.

One intriguing part of lateral communication breakdown is that frequently nobody knows that other people are missing information (often the other people don’t even know that their missing information). Nobody knows that nobody knows because what everyone has makes sense to them even though what everyone else gives them doesn’t fit.

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