Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 32;   August 12, 2009: Long-Loop Conversations: Anticipation

Long-Loop Conversations: Anticipation

by

In virtual or global teams, conversations are sources of risk to the collaboration. Because the closed-loop response time for exchanges can be a day or more, long-loop conversations generate misunderstanding, toxic conflict, errors, delays, and rework. One strategy for controlling these phenomena is anticipation.
The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare Island

The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare Island. Mare Island (which is actually a peninsula), in California, was the site of a US Naval shipyard. On July 26, the Indianapolis delivered to a base on Tinian, parts of the bomb known as Little Boy, which would be used against Hiroshima. She then left for Guam, and after departing Guam, she was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine. She did send distress calls, three of which were received, but which were tragically ignored, because one commander was drunk, another had left orders not to be disturbed and a third thought the message was a Japanese prank. Over 300 of her crew of 1196 died in the attack, and of the 880 who went into the water, all but 317 were lost to sharks. For years after the sinking, the Navy maintained that no distress calls had been sent because the ship had been cruising in radio silence. Her commander, Captain Charles Butler McVay III, survived and was rescued, only to be court-martialed and convicted of "hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag." His sentence was remitted and he was returned to active duty, retiring in 1949. Still, disgraced, he committed suicide in 1968.

Even though the distress calls were received by three separate stations, all three failed to act on them properly. Redundancy as a strategy for maintaining communications reliability is not always adequate to the task. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center.

When the closed-loop response time between you and a distant correspondent is a half-day or more, communication can feel like a frustrating hindrance to progress. But anticipating the little problems that arise in complex conversations can make discussions far more productive. In the long-loop environment, preventing problems in conversations takes a lot less effort than fixing them.

What must be anticipated is sometimes far from obvious. Here are some examples.

Anticipate anxiety about message delivery
Both recipients and senders can become anxious about delivery, especially when the messages travel in unreliable media such as the Internet. Moreover, in crisis environments, important messages can go unnoticed in the crush of other traffic.
Establish protocols about acknowledging message arrival. Protocol tiers that depend on the level of urgency of the communication environment are especially helpful.
Anticipate misunderstanding
Long-loop conversations often cross cultural or linguistic boundaries, which enhances the risk of misunderstandings. But even within one culture and language, the long-loop environment limits not only the exchanges that focus on the immediate task, but also those intended to clarify ambiguity or complexity in the conversation itself.
Assume that misunderstandings will occur. Be generous with detailed examples of the points made in your conversations. Avoid the little tactics we all use from time to time to conceal our own limited knowledge or understanding.
When the message is urgent, go slow
The probability When the conversation
is urgent, the only way
to communicate fast
is slowly
of misunderstanding escalates with the urgency of the conversation, because people tend to take less care in their communications.
When the conversation is urgent, the only way to communicate fast is slowly.
Anticipate politics
Organizational politics influences the ongoing work of most collaborations. Even though two organizations might be contractually bound to collaborate, opinions about the wisdom of the choice to collaborate can vary. Moreover, people often have conflicting commitments, and priorities do tend to change with time.
Consider political phenomena when formulating risk plans. Politics can be destructive or constructive, but even when constructive, there can be costs, some of which might fall unevenly on different organizational efforts. The effects of organizational politics on your own effort will be less harmful if you remain alert to this possibility. Keep a clear head, free of anger and frustration, when political interference does occur.

Finally, and paradoxically, anticipate the unexpected mishap. Even though we can't know what specific unexpected mishap might occur, we can be fairly certain that some unexpected mishap will occur. When significant unexpected events happen, we usually feel that they happen at the worst time. In reality, significant unexpected mishaps do happen at all times, but we notice them only when resources are inadequate to address them. In the long-loop environment, communication, the one resource that's most important for dealing with unexpected mishaps, is almost always inadequate. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: False Consensus  Next Issue

For more suggestions for the long-loop environment, see "Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions," Point Lookout for June 10, 2009; and "Long-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog," Point Lookout for June 24, 2009.

For more about the sinking of the Indianapolis see Charles Maier, "For the Good of the Navy," in Insight on the News, June 5, 2000.

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenasrIhrlQfKBsgCVdner@ChacrBdJQihCxdyYecZEoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans SnydersMudfights
When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical, and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
Presenting to persuadePresenting to Persuade
Successful, persuasive presentations involve a whole lot more than PowerPoint skills. What does it take to present persuasively, with power?
The game of chess, a strategic metaphorNasty Questions: I
Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather, they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
A hug about to happenUnwelcome Workplace Hugs
Some of us are uncomfortable about workplace hugs, and some want to be selective. Sometimes hugs are simply inappropriate. Here are some tips for dealing with unwelcome workplace hugs.
Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards More Gracious Disagreement
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAKORfCecdEsPOIowner@ChactqwZDwiAZJcaZFSKoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.