Without a doubt, one of the most precious gifts humankind has been given is the power to communicate. With it we pass vital information to one another either through verbal or nonverbal methods, such as gestures, facial expressions or body language.
In the shop, most of our communication is done through verbal communication. But no matter how important your message is, most people will not want to listen to you if they don't like the way you speak. Most of us probably feel we are effective communicators, but are we? Mumbling, poor grammar, monotonous tone of voice, talking too fast, profanity and monopolizing the conversation all discourage listeners. On the other hand, people will usually listen if you smile to put them at ease, speak clearly and slowly, look them in the eye and listen carefully to their point of view without interrupting.
Think about the directions you gave out this week to your employees. Did everything get done just as you asked? Notice what Author Dianna Booher says in her book
The Voice of Authority:
"You never know if you are a good communicator until you verify that the person got the message you sent. And what often we mistakenly do is say: 'Do you understand?', and of course the other person always says, 'Sure.' I mean who's going to say, 'No, I'm stupid, I didn't get it.'? So what you have to do is ask some specific questions like, 'How is this going to change how you intended to do 'X'? Or, 'How long do you think it'll take you to accomplish this goal?' "
I tried out this advice here at our shop. It involved a simple task of routing out six furniture frames. I told our CNC operator, Justin, to rout six 36- by 46-in. frames. I asked him, "Justin, do you know what is required to rout out the six frames?" His first response was, "Of course I do. What do you think I am, stupid? We need six sheets of plywood." After we got past that response Justin thought about it and realized he needed more than six sheets of plywood.
This little exercise showed me two things. The first and most important being that I need to think out my questions a little better, just as Booher suggested. The second was that we would have gone out into the warehouse, picked six sheets of plywood and then realized we needed more. That would have been a time waster.
Because this subject was fresh on my mind from researching this article, I noticed something else in the shop. I was pushing a cart through the shop and there was another cart in the way. One of our newer workers came over and wanted to know if he should push the other cart next to the THING. I said, "Yes," but then questioned what "thing" he was talking about. What he meant by "thing" was the sanding cabinet, but it made me think. What if the "thing" the worker meant was the CNC machine or something else that shouldn't be blocked? Then time would be wasted putting things back where they belong. To communicate properly we need to express thoughts accurately in our speech. If we are not specific in our speech, so much can be lost or misunderstood.
Here is another example of how we benefit from clear communication. Every morning I go to my local coffee shop to get a coffee. In the past I asked for "a large coffee with cream, no sugar." About 30 percent of the time they would still put sugar in my coffee. Why was this happening? I decided to try a new game plan. I began asking for a large coffee with "cream only." It worked virtually 100 percent of the time. Why? I believe that when the counter staff is very busy and they hear the word sugar that is the word they seem to remember, so they put it in. By omitting the word sugar, it eliminates the thought from their mind thus causing less confusion. Choosing words or phases carefully can have an impact on how well we are understood.
Sometimes when dealing with production it might just seem easy to run out into the shop and yell, "Pump it out." What does "pump it out" really mean? Do you want them to finish three jobs, 10 jobs? It's very important to communicate in detail. Production can really improve when clear goals and time limits are set. As my boss says, if you give a man one thing to do today, it will take all day. If you give him 10 things to do, he'll get 10 things done.