Sunday, January 24, 2010

So Who Is Responsible?

My post today offers a valuable communication lesson that comes from an unlikely source - an unfortunate chapter in my life at Broad Meadows Junior High School. In the ninth grade, I ran track for only that one year, largely because back in those days I hated running. I only did it because our rather large phys-ed teacher at the time made me do it. (This was back in the day when teachers/coaches could cause you bodily harm without any repercussions.)

I typically ran the mile, but at the last track meet of the year I was also asked to fill-in as the third leg on our undefeated one-mile relay team. (You've probably already guessed where this is going.) No problem I thought. Well, to make a long story short, I ran the third leg, starting slightly back in second place. By the time I was ready to pass the baton I had taken the lead. Our anchor leg was the fastest kid in the city. No way we could lose. As I was passing the baton, I felt a brief moment of excitement, until of course the baton hit the ground. So much for our undefeated season.

After the race, I was searching for answers as to how this may have happened. The coach offered me some clarity by telling me in no uncertain terms that it was my fault. The rule is that you don't let go of the baton until you're certain the receiver has grasped it.

It's hard to miss the relevance to our business. Like it or not, the responsibility lies with those delivering the message, not those receiving it. We can't just say, "it was in the e-mail" or "sure, it's right there in paragraph 8." We as communication professionals should never let go of the baton until we know that our target audiences have received the message. It's only at that point that we can relax and let them run with it.

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