Effective communication is a cornerstone of successful businesses and the world of auto racing is no exception. Take Jimmie Johnson, the highly accomplished NASCAR driver. In 2002 he was paired with his crew chief Chad Naus; by 2005 their communication had frayed to the limit (terrifying when you make a living traveling at 200+ mile per hour). Rick Hendrick (owner of Hendrick Motorsports) brought Jimmie and Chad into a conference room and served them cookies and milk (on Mickey Mouse plates no less). Rick figured if they wanted to act like kids, he'd treat them like kids. From 2006 to 2010, Jimmie et al won 5 straight NASCAR Championships (a phenomenal feat I'm told). Communication works!
It's nothing new and it's not rocket science. Effective communication is a big deal! But this story is not about the art of communicating; it's about recognizing how important it is and doing something about it when it fails.
Rick Hendrick knew that his team crew chief and drivers must be able to communicate effectively. It's more than just about winning; it's about staying alive. Each of these guys must have nerves of steel and driven as they are by winning, each of them aspires to be the master of their universe. But as Rick knew, a well-tuned car does not drive itself and when seconds count, failure to communicate can result in some very undesirable outcomes. Rick did three things and each of us can learn from this- 1) he recognized the communications breakdown, 2) he recognized that this state is counter-productive and potentially dangerous and 3) he took steps to intervene, beginning with disarming their defenses.
It sounds simple but how many times have you taken notice of a situation like this and dismissed it? Many do. It's possible that the observer does not recognize the potential consequences. Everyone has a moment in time when they blow off steam or lose their patience but it's imperative that you remain vigilant. Recurring episodes of raised voices and lack of cooperation are likely to progress. Sticking your head in the sand or "leaving it to them to solve their differences" is not an adequate response. There's a point at which recovery becomes much more difficult. Don't stand around waiting for it to happen.
Facilitating rebound from a communications breakdown is challenging because you are dealing with emotional people. Though each situation is unique, here are three steps that are universally beneficial in this process- 1) put the matter in perspective. In the case of Jimmie and Chad they each had their own tremendous stressors. However, their goals were one in the same. The needs of each person matter, but the two of them are needed to achieve the desired outcome. That common bond is the first step towards stepping away from the personal and moving to a place of mutual understanding, 2) emphasize that the situation does not present a failure or character flaw. Acknowledge that emotions, egos and a host of other human things exist and are completely normal and 3) make it very clear that the intent of remediation is to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved and that those outcomes are possible only if effective communication exists.
Time for me to get back to my cookies and milk... yummy
Back story credit to Don Yaeger, Jimmie Johnson: 'Pushing the Limit Isn't Always the Way You Succeed', Success magazine, February 8, 2016