Communications lessons from a hurricane

RO Communications

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson

Wednesday, November 07, 2012    

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SO Hurricane Sandy came to Jamaica and has moved on to wreak havoc on our neighbours to the North.

In her departure, she behaved somewhat like that 'virago-woman-scorned', thrashing our bedrooms, dumping water on our best clothes and leaving us with much destruction and hurt.

Yes, some of us are indeed wounded and in pain, but fortunately, she left us some valuable communication lessons that will hopefully take us through the next natural disaster that might land on our shores.

Listening: The recent storm reminded us about the importance of really listening. Communication is a process which involves listening, which is important in order to garner feedback from the messages relayed. When last have you and I truly listened? Listening is not hearing.

Hearing refers to the sounds that you hear, whereas listening requires more than that. It requires you to pay attention and to focus on the message, the use of language, the nuances, and the voice, and being aware of non-verbal messages.

If you are like me, a veteran of Hurricane Gilbert and other assorted storms, you would have heard the public service and other announcements about what to do during the hurricane season.

I must admit after the shock of Gilbert and his younger, less potent siblings who came years later, some of us dropped our guards and did not pay attention to the actions required for us to prepare ourselves for effects of such natural disasters.

The public service messages abound, and we heard them all. Yet, we chose not to trim our trees and so during the height of the storm they came crashing down on our houses or on our neighbours' properties. We heard ad nauseam the warnings not to construct dwellings near the banks of gullies as this could prove to be a deadly decision.

We were encouraged to make the necessary domestic preparations to ensure that we would make a fairly comfortable transition after the storm.

But did we listen? Not many of us did so unfortunately. We heard about everything that needs to be done and whether or not we have the money to do it in part or fully, we did nothing but 'hear'.

The passage of the category one hurricane that was Sandy once again reminded us of the importance of listening keenly to information that will assist us during a crisis. If we listen we will get the whole picture and not isolated pieces of information here and there.

I think perhaps one of the most difficult aspect of listening is being able to link together the pieces of information to make sense of it all, and to make it work for us. To listen effectively, we should let go of distractions and concentrate. It works.

Talking: This is a skill that we Jamaicans have in abundance. We can talk a good game, but oft times do not put the action behind that which is necessary to solve a problem or to make life easier for someone else.

It would appear to the naked eye that we just love to massage our gums and teeth by talking.

I am not a great believer in talking for the sake of talking, because there are so many other enjoyable meaningful activities that we could engage in rather than wasting time in fruitless talk.

Sandy woke us up to the fact that once again we need to have meaningful conversations with each other. How many of us checked on our neighbours and friends during and after the storm? Did we give useful information to our staff members and open proper communication channels between our employees and managers about office hours after the storm. Or did you leave them in the wilderness to 'guess and spell' about how the company's business would be conducted after the storm.

I shudder to think about the many conflicting messages that some of our employees might have received about when they should return to work.

God forbid that the wise ones in management further sought to mystify us by planting the important information in the mass media so that we could delightfully begin our treasure hunt for such pertinent information. I am sure though that the majority of us learnt from the storm, and will open up conversations about crisis management and disaster preparedness.

Finally, Hurricane Sandy taught us about sharing — not only information, but other means that we might have had at our disposal that might help others in more dire straits than ourselves. Storms are relentless natural disasters that are inevitable in our lives and each occurrence should give us time to pause for the hidden lessons. Let us hope that these lessons are not lost on us.

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: Visit her website at and post your comments.





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