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We need to see through our coworker's eyes and solve the problem together.

A while back, I endured the results of miscommunication between myself and a coworker.  There was a serious accident at work.  Fortunatley, there wasn't anyone hurt, but quite a bit of equipment damage did result.  I received the call late in the evening, about an hour before I was going to sleep.  My coworker was a bit frantic with his description about what happened.  I tried several times to get detailed information, but he was unable to answer my questions clearly.  It could be that he hadn't seen the damage himself or that he had a tough time describing what had happened.  Either way, while driving into work, I called a few other people in the plant to gain a better understanding about the mess I was walking into.  I finally reached someone who knew what was going on, and thankfully received better details on what really happened.

During the last twenty years, I have received hundreds of calls from work about mechanical failures, accidents, explosions, inujries, etc.  Sometimes it is necessary to get into work ASAP, while most times the solution can be arrived at while on the phone.  Each time I get a call about work, I grab a piece of scratch paper and something to write with.  My primary goal is to draw out what I hear to help me visualize the situation.

This is where the game of charades plays into solving problems.  Instead of my co-worker playing the mute, he/she is the conduit through which I see what is happening through their eyes.  What they see is converted into a verbal description that I must convert again into a visual image.  Invariably, the reality will get distorted, but with skill on both sides of the phone, those errors can be reduced.  The best way to accomplish this is through a hands-on training program.

This type of training can be done with a small group between 10-12 people, preferably even numbers so participants can be paired up.  The first part of the training deals with the effective methods of describing physical attributes and concepts.  Some time is spent on jargon or terminology that is customarily found in the workplace.  Each pair will be given an opportunity, where one participant has a drawing to describe, and the other needs to sketch it out during a verbal interchange.  During these interchanges, the rest of the training class gets to watch the game in play, and at its conclusion get to see the differences between the placard that  participant A was describing, and the sketch that participant B drew as a result.  If properly set-up, there will be comical differences between the two images that will illustrate the needs for the common use of terms, spatial relations, and basic communication.

After several groups have had the opportunity to work the scenes, the results will get more and more accurate as the natural competetiveness encourages participants to try harder to do better than the previous group.  Powerpoint presentations aside, the one-on-one interaction practice will give everyone involved a real taste for how proper use of language, terminology, and listening skills can yield clarity in understanding what is happening when we can only see it through someone else's eyes.

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