Both personally and professionally, we’ve all been the victim of miscommunication and while on a personal level it can lead to a difficult discussion about who forgot to pick up the kids from soccer, miscommunicating on a business level can result in much more serious consequences. We’re all familiar with stories about doing business with the Japanese where the word “yes” can mean yes, maybe or even simply I understand . . . but not always yes. Marginal fodder for sitcoms, falling victim to that particular misunderstanding has caused larger problems in the past.
Another example was recently illustrated in a New York Times article “The Anxiety of the Unanswered Email” wherein the writer examined the increasing prevalence of emailed requests or invitations which never get a response. It turns out there are a lot of people who just don’t want to refuse a request – i.e., simply say no – because they don’t want to come off as being rude and instead choose to deal with the situation by not dealing with it at all. The result? At the very least confusion and often annoyance. At most, a missed opportunity, a delayed start, a rushed deadline, a cost overrun . . . the list goes on.
Sometimes not saying no can result in an even greater negative outcome. In a recent edition of the NPR TED Radio Hour entitled “Making Mistakes,” former CEO and business analyst Margaret Heffernan discussed the critical necessity of disagreement in the form of exposing mistakes in order to prevent negative outcomes and even disasters. Heffernan, whose mission it is to point out the value of lessons learned – almost to the point of glorifying the act of pointing out mistakes – shows us that not saying no, not disagreeing and sometimes not pushing back hard enough can have dire consequences to sales and even put lives in jeopardy. So why are we afraid to say no?
Saying no equals conflict. Finding mistakes and shining light on them can mean backlash for yourself and maybe also for your coworkers. But not correcting
mistakes that are found can lead to inconceivable consequences whether the domino effect applies or not. Review, question, investigate. Especially the most crucial and costly elements of your business continuity plan. And consider more efficient, economical and trustworthy alternatives. You can hear the scolding of your parents from many years past but what they said is true: putting a little time and effort into a process now can save so very much time and money later. And in business continuity, it could save lives.
Find a few minutes to listen to the TED segment with Dr. Heffernan. In it, she describes the valiant fight of a dedicated researcher who found a huge mistake and then spent decades trying to get it fixed. In so doing, she saved the lives of countless children. Improvements to the process of your organization won’t be quite as dramatic, but they’re important nonetheless and maybe hearing her talk about it might give you a little more inspiration the next time you find something wrong.