Without Knowing the Rules – Playing the Game is Impossible

One of the benefits of plane travel for work is solitude. As anybody with children will attest it’s one of those rare moments in life where you can have real quiet. Normal social mores of conversation and interaction are generally dispensed with pretty quickly with a nod and a hi and then generally you’re on your own apart from a brief confirmation of chicken or beef and a check of the watch to ensure if it’s acceptable to have wine or beer with your meal.

What struck me as all of this unfolded in front of me was just how easily I slip into this routine. After an absence of several years of serious work travel it’s return although felt by absences from loved ones, was pretty easy to adapt to in the moment. The headphones went in, my typing on my iPad has improved I even realised I had my patter with fellow travellers down to a fine art; friendly but not too chatty.

The question I asked myself, was what made this so easy? In particular what intrigued me was the human element. I regularly had lovely chats and interactions with fellow plane passengers and lounge refugees and it struck me that for the majority these were brief yet pleasant. Friendly yet not persistent. Particularly on a plane there is an opportunity to chat from wheels up to touch down, yet most resist. Why? What do we all know?

Unless I have suddenly become particularly adept at expressing what I want just through verbal cues (that seems pretty unlikely) the reason everybody knows this is there is an understanding that is common. An unwritten and largely unspoken sense that to be friendly is enough and if people want to talk they will. And you know what, it works. It is enough to be friendly and just enough to not be intrusive – a little bit of human touch. A common understanding, if you like.

So it got me thinking that a lack of these elements of a common understanding is often a factor when a communication process breaks down. That lack of understanding of what all parties are trying to achieve and even sometimes even about what game is being played. Many times community outrage can be based on a perception of what may happen, rather than what is actually planned, fear and uncertainty can creep in very easily when there is an information vacuum and this momentum once created is always a challenge to bring back. It’s a good question to ask yourself in any project – are we all on the same page here? What’s everybody’s understanding of what we are doing and trying to do? Are we all headed in the same direction and if not, why not?

Building that questioning process into any project plan is critical to success and if you haven’t done it, there is no time like the present! It would also obviously be remiss of me not to mention that an independent set of eyes to manage such an activity can provide a different perspective on such matters.

See you on a plane sometime; I’ll be the one having the brief but friendly chat.