When communication goes VERY wrong.
We reached out to our genYOU Industry legends to ask them for their most cringe-worthy communication mishaps. We know that most of the time, miscommunication occurs when you ignore good old-fashioned common sense … all of these “lessons learned” are in fact “lessons already known but I’m kind of an idiot sometimes!” In fact … we bet that ALL of our industry legends would have loved an ‘exit here now’ door to save them from these situations!
I accidentally sent a snarky email about a colleague TO THAT COLLEAGUE instead of to my work BFF. I didn’t even realise what I’d done until that colleague walked up to my desk to confront me. It was pretty awful for everyone concerned. All I could do was own it, apologise and be super-nice from that point forward. Lesson learned: Reply and Forward are two VERY DIFFERENT buttons.
I had been working with a manager on getting funding for a project that was quite a slog for both him and I. I happened to meet with his manager and got a response that ‘We should absolutely make that happen.’ I emailed my contact with what was (I thought) good news. He was furious and a) thought I went over his head, b) responded with ‘well if he thinks it’s that easy he needs to fund it’.
Turns out there were some politics I wasn’t aware of. More importantly – I realized that in text there is lots of room for missing context. Fortunately I managed to meet him, clear up that the meeting with the manager was fortunate timing rather than going over his head. And that here was support for the idea/project. With that cleared up we worked well together and a $80k project funded and delivered with great results.
As a manager, when one of my staff ask to speak with me privately I know something is up. My standard (internal monologue) joke is that they must be resigning or pregnant. With one staff member, I was expecting a resignation so I joked out loud to her “Don’t tell me you’re pregnant”. She burst into tears: she was indeed pregnant and at that point very overwhelmed by it. Lesson learned: Never never never make comment on someone’s fertility.
One communication issue I remember I had with a passenger. I was working the bar cart on a 10 hour flight to Cape Town. It’s mostly South African passengers so English isn’t a big problem. I got to one of the passengers and I asked as always if she’d like anything to drink. She told me “Appetiser” and I was thinking she can obviously see I’m not serving food. So I told her “madam we’ll be serving food shortly, can I get you a drink?” Again she said “appetiser”.
At this point I’m thinking maybe she doesn’t speak English, so I use my hands gesturing like I’m drinking and holding up a carton of orange juice. Again she said “do you have appetizer?” I said “no madam, appetizers are with the main meal” and we must have just kept on going on like this whilst everyone is waiting. I then told her “I have no idea what you want”. Finally she decided to explain what she was saying. Apparently it was “Appletizer” which is the name of a South African drink. Obviously we didn’t have it. Her accent did not help at all either.
An external member of an interview panel that I was a part of, saw fit to gossip about one of the candidates to his work team – thinking that they would not know anyone within the relevant work area or be able to identify the candidate. WRONG. Within 24 hours people within my team had heard the gossip and knew exactly who it was about. That panel member’s reputation was left in shreds. Lesson learned: Don’t talk about sensitive staff matters to ANYONE who doesn’t have business knowing about it.
I was on a flight to Pakistan. We were about to land and almost on touch down. I was in my jump seat, so I had a good view of my cabin. An elderly passenger stood up, he looked like he spoke no english, wearing traditional clothing and travelling alone didn’t help. Basically he started walking barely able to stand up straight due to the turbulence, towards the lavatory. I tried asking him to sit down, he kept walking.
I tried yelling and using hand gestures to get him to sit. Planes about to touch down. I stood up and directed him to the nearest seat and took my seat asap. Touched down and I quickly took him to the lavatory, he spoke no English.
One passenger in front of me took offence from me trying to get the older guy’s attention by using a loud voice. He told me I was rude and shouldn’t shout at people from his country that way. I tried calmly like trained to explain that it was my duty to make sure no one is standing during landing and that he could have easily gotten injured or cracked his head open if he slipped and fell. He kept on yelling at me and wanted to report me. We were trained to deal with such passengers so it wasn’t a big deal.
He eventually went to report me however refused to give any of his details so the report couldn’t be filed. However, many of the passengers disembarking apologised to me for this guy’s bad attitude and had some even tell me they were willing to act as a witness if I got reported. It was all good in the end , and probably a miscommunication.
Talking about communication f**k ups wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that time when I actually sent a blank unformatted email to our entire marketing/customer database with a message that simply sad “Dear Person. Content goes here” … the worst bit was, it was triggered whilst I was working on some other automation tasks so I didn’t realise it was actually happening until clients started replying to us with alot of “umm guys … whats up” … not a great moment, but to this date, one of my best response rates on an email <facepalm>.
When we talk about communication we often become obsessed with words and don’t think so much about the channels. This is exactly what happened when we were looking to send out a marketing campaign. It was circa 2002 (before Mailchimp and the likes existed) and we wanted to do some email marketing to drum up a bit of business before the end of the quarter.
Back in the day, our version of “email marketing” was to do an email mail merge from word. We had done a few test emails to groups of 100 or so and the response had been great. So my boss said – okay – lets double down and send to the whole list. 4000 cold contacts! Woot … I thought.
We did the send … but it turns out when sending that many cold and questionable email addresses does not do good things to your servers … and we managed to get our servers all temporarily blacklisted … even worse … we were part of a group of companies which meant the whole company had issues sending emails our for a few days … and I had to contend with a bunch of grumpy sales people who were also working to end of quarter goals and couldn’t get their emails out to close the deals.
The worst cherry on this Sunday was that it turned out my boss was a spineless muppet … whilst he was happy to stand behind my shoulder and rub his hands together in delight as I hit send … the moment we realised the extent of our mistake, he had to do another “important errand” and left me with the job of ringing all the managers from the other companies to apologise for what we had done. *Sigh* lesson learned … never again.