Communication Series: Going ‘Old School’ to Reduce Confusion

Posted on Mon, Nov 07, 2016
Communication Series: Going ‘Old School’ to Reduce Confusion

Part 1 of a two-part series.

By Ginger Wirth, RN

Communication. That word is used in every aspect of life and considered one of the most powerful tools we have as human beings. It’s also considered one of the biggest challenges we have. Whether it’s in our professional or personal relationships, when there is the perception of poor, failed or the lack of communication, there is a breakdown of the relationship. There aren’t nearly as many complaints related to the actual work we perform or the acts we do than there are regarding the way we speak (or don’t) speak to each other.

One definition of communication is: A positive, ceaseless, and challenging leadership responsibility of creating and maintaining understanding and trust between people.

It’s important to realize that when conversations happen, the intended purpose is to create a clear understanding to whom the message is being conveyed. The message is not simply made up of words; it includes all of the other important aspects of communication:

  • Words
  • Actions
  • Facial expressions
  • Tone of voice
  • Gestures
  • Silence

All of these make up pieces of the message and play a large part in how the message is received. It’s the responsibility of the sender to ensure that the receiver understands the message. It behooves the sender to be acutely aware of the receiver’s nonverbal cues to ensure that they are getting the information the way it is intended.

The reliance on electronics, such as email, text messages and other nonverbal modes of communication, has created somewhat of a breakdown due to the lack of the essential verbal component as well as the ability to see the other person during the interaction. Care must be taken when relying on these methods as the sole ways of communicating with one another. Consider the potential degradation of communication when we changed from using the telephone as an extension of the verbal to one that puts nonverbal communication “on demand.” Perhaps we should rely more on “old school” communication and go back to actually calling to speak with a colleague.

Communication Miscue: It Happened to Me

I found myself in somewhat of a sticky situation that was directly related to a breakdown in communication related to the use of email rather than traditional face-to-face or phone communication.

The situation was this: A meeting was requested by one of the team members to the administrative assistant. The assistant (Jane) spoke with the Team Leader (Joe) and sent out an invite for a conference call. When the Outlook invite was emailed to the team, I noticed that one of the key members wasn’t listed.

I sent this email to Jane: “Do we need to have Sarah on this call? Just me thinking out loud…”

Innocent request, I thought. Quickly, I receive this email back: “Hi Ginger. As Sarah is a vice president, she attends our meetings and is a vital part of all we do. The topics you requested to be discussed on the call would be beneficial for Sarah to be a part of. If you feel that Sarah should not be a part of this Team call, please address with her directly. Thank you, Jane.”

Clearly after reading the response from Jane, I replied back and told her simply that I had not seen Sarah on the invite and want to make sure that she was included. My intention was the opposite of what she interpreted from my initial email.

This illustrates how easily email and text communication can be taken out of context or completely misinterpreted. It’s the responsibility of the sender to ensure that the recipient understands the message. This may be very difficult when using email or text messages.

In the end, Sarah picked up the phone, we discussed the misunderstanding “old school” and it was cleared up in seconds. And then we laughed!

An additional pitfall with electronic communication is the use of specialty fonts, bolded text and colored texts. When you type in ALL CAPS, it gives the impression that you are shouting at the recipient. The same can be said for BOLDED or Red text in email or texts. One should use care when selecting enhancements to the normal font or typeset. I offer this suggestion: If there is a message that’s so important that you feel it needs to be in bold, italic, ALL CAPS, underlined or colored, consider picking up the phone or walking down the hall to deliver that message. You run less risk of having the communication misinterpreted that way.


Ginger Wirth, RN, joined EmCare in 2013 as a Divisional Director of Clinical Services for the Alliance Group. Her goal is to make positive changes in healthcare by helping others focus on quality, excellence, and the overall patient experience. Wirth regards her role as Director of Clinical Services as the ideal opportunity to partner with nursing, physician and facility leaders to make positive changes to the entire patient care experience. Her 20-plus year nursing career has been dedicated to quality and excellence, promoting overall positive outcomes and safety for patients.

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