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Memphis Daily News
A Failure to Communicate
February 24, 2014
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

A research study was done that asked 100 people who were all more than 90 years of age to describe what they would do differently if they had to live their lives over. The responses most often given were that they would take more risks, that they would spend more time reflecting, and that they would do more that would live on after they were gone. I was not a part of that survey, but I would like to add one more to that list of “do overs:” to listen more.

We have become a society that has raised multi-tasking to an art form. At a recent meeting I attended, one of the members of the group was bragging that he had just finished talking on the phone while responding to emails at the same time. The man next to him asked, “Was it a conference call?” Then he went on to boast, “I can do a conference call, answer my email, and be meeting with someone in my office, all at the same time.” What a dubious distinction. I wonder if anyone was listening. What if all the others involved were doing the same thing? Would that constitute a failure to communicate?

Perhaps listening has becoming more of a challenge in the workplace today because of the multiple methods of communication that are routinely used, the multiple ways of “talking.” It is noted that for the first time there are four generations working together, each with a different preferred style of communication, of talking, and a preferred style of listening. Are you up for the challenge of multi-generational communication? Those considered seniors in the workplace like that letter in their hands, something in writing they can read at will, file and have for documentation. They’ll say “Write me.” and they’ll read the fine print. The baby boomers usually prefer real time, person-to-person communication, reading body language and subtle cues that come with voice inflection and tone. They’ll say “Call me and we’ll talk about it.” There’s not too much of a paper trail there, but its high touch. The generation X’ers will suggest you email them, and they’ll expect an immediate response. It’s a little more difficult to interrupt meaning in an email, but it’s in writing. As for the millennials, their mantra is “Just text me.” It’s short, to the point, high tech, and has a vocabulary all its own.

It would be easier if everyone had a growth mind set, but they don’t. It would be more efficient if changes in technology did not happen with lightning speed, but they do. It would make communication more effective if there were no digital divide, but there is. So how do you keep the marketplaces of your life from becoming a 21st century Tower of Babel? How do you listen to your boss, your employees, your customers, and how are they listening to you?

Success belongs to those who recognize and “speak” the multiple methods of communication.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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