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Strategizing For Effective Communication (“Tatamae” or Saving Face)

Strategizing for effective communication is key when building trust with your team. Are you communicating well to connect with your team and other teams or are you judging and rejecting based on your perspective?


Competing with who’s right and not finding what’s right. Communicating as if it’s, What About Me, (W.A.M.) instead of, Whatever It Takes ( W.I.T.). Critical decisions and difficult problems, oftentimes, comes down to WAM OR WIT depending on the team culture.

All teams face problems routinely. Back in about 2003, at my airline, we were having a problem meeting what we called turnaround-times, the time between the airplanes shutting down, unloading and reloading for another flight. We weren’t meeting the desired 30 minute turn-around time.


Meetings had not been fruitful. We weren’t finding an effective solution to our timing problem. So, I took a camera crew out and filmed our turnaround procedures and those of a competitor. I found a dramatic difference. On the competitor’s film, I found the first passengers and bags came off the aircraft starting within 15 seconds. On our aircraft, it took some 8 minutes.


After some editing, I presented this to our Vice President thinking, holy smokes we’ve got the culprit now, and I found it, let’s get to cracking on fixing the problem. Sagaciously, (calm down “little grasshopper”, you must become one with the airline) he asked if I’d shown anyone the video yet and I replied no. He said, let me have it, don’t say anything to anyone and I will take care of it.


It took about 8-10 business days but at a company officer performance meeting, the manager of ground services made a presentation showing the video, providing a plan of action for fixing the problem. I was in the W.A.M. mode of “What About Me? That’s my video and my discovery, I want the credit.”


The lesson dawned on me, “little grasshopper” Dennis Mellen: Behind the scenes, the VP showed the video privately to the manager, the manager had gotten her “LEAN” team, the experts on optimizing processes, to troubleshoot the entire turn scenario and come up with a master plan for fixing it.


Think about this. I wanted to show everyone the problem right away. I wanted to be right, instead of using those strategies for effective communication. Behind the scenes the problem was solved while allowing the manager to use a Japanese term “Tatamae”, allowing the manager to save face in front of her peers and boss. We certainly didn’t want the manager to commit Hari Kari or Seppuku right? The VP allowed the manager to present the video as hers, show how her team was going to fix it and show how she had an on-going process for improvement.


My strategizing for effective communication lesson:

It's not important about who’s right, but what’s right, communicating not with, What About Me or W.A.M., but with W.I.T. Whatever It Takes, building trust and a positive culture. With strategizing for effective communication, think of how much the W.I.T. angle paid in dividends to future problem solving.


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