There’s an old story from World War 1 about a bunch of soldiers in the trenches. The only way to get orders down the line was to tell the first man in the trench and he would pass it on. On one occasion a British Major delivered an order, “Send reinforcements – we’re going to advance”. The story goes that by the time it reach the end of the line the message was, “Send three and fourpence we’re going to a dance”. I’d call that a communication cock up of giant proportions and while it’s sort of funny it’s also tragic.

Worse still, in our world today, it still happens and understanding why is more scientific than one might think. It’s all got to do with ‘coding’ and a comprehension of the concept of communication. It’s pretty simple really. Lets look at a conceptual model of communication and understand what causes the breakdown.



Coding is actually about the way you present information. What tone will you use? What volume, or in the case of written communication, how will you put it? How will you phrase the communication, will it be aggressive, passive, conversational or friendly, romantic or emotional; it’s basically about expressing your feelings so the receiver understands. Incidentally this explains why emails are a lousy way to communicate. They often express what we say as something else – you and me have different code books.

So how do you fix it, how do you ensure what you mean is what gets delivered and the receiver gets the RIGHT message? The answer lies in understanding the person your communicating to. Empathy – stand in their shoes and ask yourself the question, “Can this be misunderstood by them?” then shape your conversation to ensure its clear. Make the code book work for you, not against you.

Finally, don’t let yourself down by communicating with the wrong tools. Emails are great but sometimes a phone call ensures your tone of voice is important. There never will be any communication to replace personal contact.