Your Career and You: "What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate"


I’m dealing with an internship situation right now that, hopefully, I can get straightened out soon before everyone gets discouraged and gives up.
The bottom line/root cause is, as goes that great line spoken by “the Captain” in “Cool Hand Luke”: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
The irony of this particular situation is that it’s a public relations internship…and public relations (to me, at least) is about accurate, understood, and agreed-upon communication.
There are problems on all sides of this particular kerfluffle…expectations of the internship supervisor, expectations of the site supervisor, and expectations of the student intern.
Right now, the conversations are running on parallel tracks, all heading in the same general direction, but each just slightlyaway from the others.
And, unfortunately, that is how most misunderstandings are created…from general agreement but slightly divergent expectations of that agreement.
Will the world as we know it come to a screeching halt as a result of this? Doubtful.
Will some feelings be hurt? Probably.
Will important lessons be learned? Definitely.
Lesson 1: Be crystal clear on expectations of all parties involved. (Assumptions were made on all sides here.)

Lesson 2: Act quickly to clear up misunderstandings or miscommunications. (There was a delay, again on all sides, in acting on perceived problems.)

Lesson 3:Change procedures to ensure that, in future, the problem won’t bubble up again. (Done, with fingers crossed.)

In looking back at this situation, it’s pretty easy to see where the train jumped off the tracks.
Everybody was right.

And everybody was wrong.
It’s not the end of civilized life as we know it. But it isa good learning experience.
In the course of our careers, we (professionals, professors, clients, students, employers, employees…) sit in a room and talk at each other…a lot. And we assume that the other parties understand and agree with us.
Most of the time, things go as expected.
Sometimes, “we’ve got a failure to communicate.”
“Much learning does not teach understanding.”
– Heraclitus, “From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers.”
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About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 10 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
This entry was posted in careers, feedback, public relations. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Your Career and You: "What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate"

  1. I would add one item under lesson #2 above, and that is, "Be truthful and take ownership". So often in these situations, emotions run high and the finger pointing game begins. As a former colleague used to joke with me, "Don't worry about solving the problem, just find out who did it!!"Each party should analyze their own words and objectively determine if some/all might have contributed to the misunderstanding. If yes, then acknowledge it. Sounds simple, but many times does not occur.

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  2. Thanks very much, Doug. A very insightful addition that comes from experience. Sometimes the most difficult words to say are a very simple, "I'm sorry. I was wrong."I really appreciate your feedback!

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