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“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw 

Unmet expectations are the source of all conflicts between two people. It’s true between patients and health care providers, sales professionals and clients, educators and students, parents and children, and husbands and wives.

It typically starts with small misunderstandings, escalates to arguments, and continues on to break down relationships – collapsing the possibility of understanding and partnership.  Too often the downward spiral begins, not in the tyrannical actions of someone else, but in our own inability to communicate clearly and effectively what we expect.

As a child recovering from burns, I spent the first several weeks in the hospital totally cutoff from others. My eyes were swollen shut, my voice muted by the respirator forcing oxygen into my damaged lungs, and my arms and legs were tied down to the bed to lessen the contractures.  After several weeks, the swelling lessened (allowing my vision to return), but the respirator continued pumping (keeping my voice silenced).

I was nine years old, in intense pain, sad and afraid, and couldn’t communicate with my parents or nurses.  If you can’t speak, you can’t write, you can’t move, and you can’t even nod your head, how do you communicate with others?  This was one of our challenges.

The technique we used was tongue clicking.  One click meant “yes;” two clicks meant “no.”  After mastering that language, a more complicated letter-board was introduced to facilitate communication.

Here’s how it worked: My parents would hold a small board with the alphabet on it, move their finger through the letters, and I would click when they got to the first letter of the word I wanted to spell.  Then we would do the same for the second letter and so on.  (Experiment: try this tonight and watch how long it takes to spell words and sentences. Share with me and our friends what this experience was like for you on my wall at facebook.com/speakerjohnoleary Needless to say, we had some miscommunication.

In every interaction with that board, I knew exactly what I was trying to get across. But my Mom would go past the letter – and we’d have to start over; or my Dad would go too slowly, and we’d never get anywhere. Frustration, tears, and anger were often the result.

What does this story mean for you?

My friends, each of us have some of that same “child” in us today. We know what we are trying to communicate to our patients, children, shareholders, clients, and spouses. We know what we want from them. We know what we expect. And we can’t fathom what is wrong with them when they get it wrong.

Today, when you find yourself in moments of unmet expectations and miscommunication, don’t get frustrated and angry, instead get clear and effective. Do others actually understand your needs, desires, expectations, and commitments? Make sure YOU understand your needs, desires, expectations, and commitments. Then, take a moment to communicate your need clearly because, remember: our biggest problem can be “the illusion” that we communicated what we expect.

John O’Leary


P.S. If you found this message valuable, forward it to a friend who might appreciate it too.

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0 replies on “Clicking Together”

When I was 7 years old I was run over by a truck. I have since graduated with a Bachelors degree and have flown 12 times with Air Combat USA. I ride the bike all the time and watch pro cycling on tv and met Dave Shields at the Tour De Georgia in 2006. I got his book the Tour and had him sign it he also showed me his other book about once pro cyclist Saul Raisin who was injured in a crash that leftt him with Tramatic Brain Injury. I told Dave Schields that I already ordered that book on Amazon.com So Dave got me in touch with Saul Raisin and in 2009 I got to ride the bike with a pro cyclist which for me was a big deal. Thanks for the inspiration!

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