Communication is the foundation of any human relationship and the workplace is a veritable minefield of humans. Misunderstood instructions have easily cost American industry millions of dollars over the years and have undoubtedly led to a boatload of lost jobs. Sharpening employees' communication skills is a good way to keep everyone in a company speaking the same language...so to speak.
To show the importance of writing clear instructions and reading instructions thoroughly and attentively, try a practice exercise. Distribute the instructions face down. Tell participants that everyone must begin at the same time and the first to complete the tasks wins. Instructions: 1. Read all instructions carefully before proceeding; 2. Write your name on the other side of this sheet; 3. Stand on one leg and count to 10; 4. Sit down on the floor with your legs crossed and hum your favorite tune; 5. Spell your whole name out loud -- last name included -- backwards; 6. Go to the nearest door with your sheet and come back to your place; 7. Now that you have read each instruction carefully, only do the first two.
Place participants in a room and instruct them to line up in order of their mother's birthdays without speaking to one another. This helps participants experience success in "hindered" communications. Real world examples of hindered communications might include speaking with someone in another field or department, or with someone whose native language is not English. This exercise is a great way to introduce discussions about such topics as barriers to good communication and non-verbal expression.
Seat participants back-to-back in pairs. Give Participant One a piece of paper with the name of a simple object and Participant Two a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Participant One describes, but does not name, the object. Participant Two draws the object. After two minutes, the "describers" reveal the words they were issued and the "artists" reveal their results. The ensuing discussion illuminates that what may appear to be simple in one person's mind is not always simple to someone else.
Navigation by Proxy
Navigation by proxy is done in teams of two. Set up an obstacle course using a variety of commonly found non-sharp objects, such as plastic cups, waste baskets or cardboard boxes. Blindfold one member of the team. The other calls instructions from outside the course to guide the first through without disturbing the obstacles. The team that completes the course fastest with the least number of obstacles disturbed wins. Effective instructions and listening play important parts in successful communications.
This game shows that information passed from one person to the next is often distorted. Seat participants in a circle. Write a message on a piece of paper and have the first person read it silently. Then, the first person whispers the message to the person to their right. The message is whispered person-to-person around the circle until it reaches the last participant. The last participant writes down the message. Comparing the original message with the mangled final one illustrates that secondhand info may not always ring true.
Business Writer Editor Olivia Wakeman has more than 20 years of business writing and business editing experience. As founder of www.writero.com, she has worked with Fortune 500 corporations and other organizations, including Xerox, McGraw-Hill, Hoffmann-La Roche and the U.S. Army. Wakeman holds a Master's degree in international business from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.