Change Your Underwear


“Telephone Tower” Stockholm, Sweden 1890. It served over 5,000 lines.

Some things matter more than others, but make no mistake, everything communicates. Everybody always gains by good dialogue. I can’t remember the last issue from over communicating; they all seem to be from under-communicating. Insist that others be clear on details. Clarity does not always come with time – if you are unclear on the front end, you will most certainly be unclear when you are underway. Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

I have heard the complaint that employees ask too many questions. My response is that you have made a bad hire or you have poorly communicated clearly what you expect. They’re asking because they don’t know. So why are you frustrated with them? Lack of communication leads to fear and anger, and a confused person often says “no.” Great communicators are humble enough to connect through being real and not hiding weaknesses. They also are not afraid to keep dialogue open through praise, knowing that abilities, wither under criticism, but blossom under encouragement.

I feel communication is important to God as every story in the Bible involves interaction between God, angels, people, and at one point a donkey, so how and what we communicate must matter. God gave very specific details to Noah on how to build the ark. At one point God said “Write My answers plainly on tablets, so that the runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2). When I think about miscommunication, I’m reminded of a story of a captain who inspected his sailors, and afterward told the First Mate that his men smelled bad. The captain suggested perhaps it would help if the sailors would change underwear occasionally. The first mate responded, “Aye, aye, sir, I’ll see to it immediately!” The first mate went straight to the sailors berth deck and announced, “The captain thinks you guys smell bad and wants you to change your underwear.” He continued, “Pittman, you change with Jones; McCarthy, you change with Witkowski; and Brown, you change with Schultz.” This funny but gross story illustrates exactly what cost organizations untold fortunes daily through miscommunication. If the captain would have taken a little more time being specific, his desired result would’ve been accomplished. Make the extra effort and include the extra sentence to avoid miscommunication. Assumptions can be devastating.

The only thing worse than poor communication is no communication. Simply returning correspondence almost speaks louder than what you say. If the number of items needing response is many, the responsibility to respond is even greater. Sometimes systemized standard responses to repeat scenarios can lessen the burden. After all, you can run a McDonald’s restaurant with 16-year-olds. But no matter what you do, practice, focus, and commit to being a great communicator.

What are some techniques you use to communicate clearly?

6 thoughts on “Change Your Underwear

  1. Great article Dallas! And so true in many aspects. Lately God has provided me the opportunity to speak at some IBM conferences and through the Q & A segments I’ve learned that asking the right question also improves the lines of communications.

    IBM provides some “speaker” training sessions prior to a speaking engagement for their Conferences. One of their suggestions was for the Speaker to repeat back the question (or statement) of the attendee. This insures that 1) the audience heard the attendee and 2) that the Speaker understood the attendee correctly in order to respond appropriately.

    I found that practicing this easy suggestion reveals a level of respect to the attendee that you are actively listening to them and also whether or not they asked the question appropriately. It is as if when they hear it repeated back word-for-word they find it wasn’t actually what they meant to convey.

    In your article I especially appreciate the “change your underwear” example. It reminds me of “bandaid” stories where people treat the symptom and not the cause. Leadership often responds to crisis by intervening incorrectly, by failing to address the root cause of the crisis. The Captain was clearly responding to the immediate issue at hand (the crew smelling badly) as opposed to discovering why and addressing the cause behind the problem. Which actually created the communication issue in the first place!

    I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll say it once again. I really like your thought-provoking writing style. There are so many blog styles and many are loosely written ramblings. So your style is quickly becoming a unique writing style. #DoingItRight!

    • Cindy – so true about asking questions, seek first to understand in order to be understood. Questions always improve communication. Great point to repeat the question also. Thank you so much for your kind words and input!

  2. My son was just let go of a job yesterday for asking to many questions. When he called me he was so upset he said “mom, he told me I asked to many questions, that I need to just figure it out” my son however is extremely detailed oriented and precise so this left him bum fuzzled to say the least. It was his first day & was let go 3 hrs into his day.

    I believe you learn from asking questions, however, asking the same question over and over would assume you don’t pay attention but I believe asking questions is essential in moderation.

    Great post

  3. Deanne – Sorry about your son losing his job. I’m sure he will find somewhere where his attention to detail is valued and appreciated!

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