How is electronic communication like an incomplete pass

Communication is a funny thing, meaning strange and not “ha ha”.  Just when you think you have delivered a message you find out that the message never arrived or it was misinterpreted or misconstrued.  Football has many similarities to Communication and I will use this post today to share a few thoughts about the many similarities between communication and American football.

In football you can make offensive progress in many ways, namely by running the ball or by passing the ball.  You can also play defense in a number of ways.  There are varied ways to communicate with others and there are both offensive and defensive methods in the communication process.  Let’s look at a few of the ways to proactively communicate a message:

Verbal, face to face communication is the oldest and usually the most successful way to deliver a message.  When you meet with someone face to face there is little to chance and the ability to check clarity and view non-verbal cues is the greatest.  Verbal communication is much like running the ball in football.  When you run the ball it can be initiated by the quarterback or there can be a handoff to another player     on the team to advance the ball.  Again, other than through a fumble, the odds of the message, or the method, being derailed are low.  Now I will admit that anyone’s success in running the ball is controlled by their ability to effectively move the other team out of the way and it is also affected by the ability of the team to work cohesively as a unit.  These two items do not vary much from communicating or delivering a message.

Telephone is another low-risk method of communication.  Verbal communication through telephony is not as preferred as the face to face manner, and even using tools such as Skype can increase the effectiveness of this verbal communication from a distance.  Telephone usage is somewhat like running the ball and it also has some of the challenges seen when a pass is attempted in football.  The late George Allen of football coaching fame always said that there are three things that can happen when you pass the ball, and that two of them are bad.  The good thing is for the pass to be complete, but the bad things are for the pass to be incomplete or for the pass to be intercepted.  Telephony has some of those “less than desirable” aspects that resemble Coach Allen’s viewpoint.

Email and Social Networks are other ways we can communicate and we will talk about each.  Emails is a highly used, if not even overused, method of communication.  People have greatly shifted their ways of communication toward the email world and this has brought about many unintended circumstances.  One of the best rules of thumb I ever heard about communication dealt with how quickly you need a response to a message.     If you need an immediate response you should communicate in person or via telephone.  If the time is not urgent, then email can be a successful method.  Too many of us are relying upon email to be that immediate method of response and there is now way of knowing if the person receiving the message is “live” or if they will receive and read the message at a much later time.  I recently had a circumstance where a return email message was not received and there was a small misunderstanding as a result.  No blame need be cast, but the reliance upon email as that Immediate response tool is one that will only get you into trouble.  Email and social networks are like the forward pass in that they can obtain a quick response, but the probability of unintended circumstances is much higher with this method.  Social networks have similarities with email, but they also have many unintended circumstances and they should never be relied upon as a regular means of business or professional communication unless no other method is available.  There are some generational differences in this perception, but few boomers would consider sending business messages on Facebook or Twitter, while many Gen Y or Millennial would not think twice about this.

Communication and Football-the one thing that can be sure is that you need to make sure that the handoff of the message is done well and that you need to understand the time constraints of those you are communicating with.  Your inability to correctly fit the right method with the message and timeframe will only lead to unintended results and hard feelings at the least.  Much worse outcomes may also occur.