Transmission is easy - but are we being understood?

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In September 2011 we held a communications event which was well attended and created some great output. Subsequent to the event we promised to collate the output and make it available to not just those who attended, but also to share it with the wider audience. Admittedly, its taken a long time but we have finally managed to achieve our goal and we will be delighted if you would take a look and let us know what you think.

This exercise has most assuredly been a good case study in the very subject we were exploring - communication. And I cant help reflecting on how difficult it has been.

It started out as a simple exercise - I collected all the presentations together into one place, sent them over to APM, and requested that they post them on the People SIG webpage; simple, job done!!

Er.........no! After a suitable reflective time period, I receive an email saying that the material made no sense to the Ibis House team, there was no clear relationship between the presentations, some presentations didnt even make sense on their own, the web links didnt work and there was no way to open the Mindmap file.....What! It all made perfect sense to me, if only they have been at the workshop it would make perfect sense to them too............. but of course they werent, and neither was a large percentage of the APM membership (attendance was good , but even I have to admit we were a few thousand short).

Now it was my turn not to understand...... in this world of high IT usage, lots of free software and YouTube why dont the web links just work, surely there is some free software for the Mindmap stuff, just Google it. So obviously no problem that a short bridging note wouldnt solve.

Er.........no! Simply what works in person, with verbal updates, asides, opportunities to query and clarify and instant interaction doesnt translate when being delivered in a different way. Add into the mix that this seamless web technology is not quite seamless or universal, corporate branding and style, level of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and it all adds up to a significantly complicated process to communicate information in different formats to a widely different audience.

With much effort and additional work by ourselves and our colleagues at Ibis House, we have succeeded. But not without a considerable amount of lapsed time, some frustration and several face to face meetings.

This leaves me pondering what Ive learned from this communication exercise and how often I put in this amount of extra effort in communicating with others. And how often do you? Remember that meeting you couldnt attend but received the slide pack, just read it and all would be clear, but wasnt. That one line email reassuring you all is well, but only prompted more questions.

Transmission is easy especially in todays world - the sender is always clear, after all, they have all the background information, have clarified it in their own head and answered all their own queries.

But is what is received meaningful, clear, relevant and understood? Only if you give thought and effort to ensuring that it is. I just need to remember that myself!

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Posted by Rob Sadler on 12th Nov 2012

About the Author
Rob has been an APM membersince 2002 and holds an APMPQ certification. He was a committee member of the People SIG from 2006 to 2012. Rob’s background is varied but is grounded in mechanical engineering. He currently works for Transport for London where he established from zero the Station Enhancement Programme for all Overground stations, a critical function of which has been protecting the project scope, solutions and costs through his extensive knowledge base of multi-disciplined, technical projects not only within the rail environment but also in bespoke capital projects from feasibility studies to on site operational service.

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