Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is the message getting through?

Sat on a bus this weekend on the way to Stockholm airport.

Approaching the airport the driver announced that the bus would stop at all terminals. He did this in both Swedish and English.

Straight after the announcement, and coming up to the first terminal stop, the chap in front of me reached up and pressed the "next stop" button. Hhmm. Got me thinking:

Did he not understand Swedish or English?
Did he understand the language but not the message?
Did he understand the message but have an ingrained/reflex reaction?
I don't know, but I got curious as this is behaviour I can sometimes identify in my daily work. A message is transmitted  (sometimes several times - both written & verbally). However, the expected change doesn't necessarily occur.

A typical example might be a change in a routine. After doing X and before doing Y we should now do ...
But the message about the change doesn't always sink in. Why?

I suspect that the changes don't happen when there is a small tweak in a routine, process or activity. It's a case of someone not really listening or paying attention.

So, if it's a small change -> get the attention first. A big change from a standard practice or routine will probably get the attention anyway - but don't take it for granted!

Similar experience anyone?


  1. @Did he not understand Swedish or English?
    Did he understand the language but not the message?
    Did he understand the message but have an ingrained/reflex reaction?

    I recently faced a similar situation.
    1. Though that chap has got the language and message right, he was not sure if the stop he is getting down at was one of the identified stops(what if it is a small village and most buses are not permitted to stop there?)
    2. Suppose the driver is very new to that route of driving and the conductor(transportation) is expected to guide the driver on where to stop. What if the conductor goes to sleep(happened to me :-). This gets worse if the chap himself is visiting the place for the first time and knows the name of the stop, but does not know when the stop comes.
    3. Some chaps will customarily do what they would normally do irrespective of what they are told or not (doesn't it sound like scripted testing approach?)

    Parimala Shankaraiah

    PS: The above comments are made with respect to Indian Transportation System in mind. I am thinking that each state/country will have varied transportation systems.

  2. Hi Pari,

    Thanks for the comments. Yes, there are many reasons this happens.

    I think it's very easy to do things because it's how you are used to doing them. This can apply to transport, testing and most things in everyday life.

    Yes, testing without thinking is "risky".

    My lesson that I have learnt is that if I'm talking about a new idea/routine/process in my work environment it's important to make sure people are paying attention.

    It's also important to try and find the "stickiness factor" (from Gladwell's Tipping Point) to make the message/idea memorable.


  3. I can think of two reasons for pressing the button - avoiding ambiguity and different (cultural) backgrounds.
    Consider the difference between the two statements:
    Bus stops are at every terminal
    Bus stops at every terminal
    And in some countries it is normal for buses not to stop if the bus driver sees that nobody wants to board/unboard.

  4. Yes, true. In my example it was the second of the 2 statements that was made. So it could've been a mis-translation by the receiver.

    But your second point was interesting - this is a case of someone applying their own cultural interpretation/tradition over another situation.

    This falls partly into the ingrained reaction case - but is a slightly different flavour/reason behind it.

    Cross-cultural teamwork is a common scenario where this can arise. I've found that it needs some close cooperation and understanding on both sides (at least in the beginning) to iron-out any "lost in translation" cases.

    Thanks for the comment.


  5. or

    Could he be on a tight schedule and if he missed the stop it might be catastrophic to his whole day...would it be better for him to make sure the driver knows he wants to stop.

    Also what if he'd had an experience before where the driver didn't stop.

    Could he be influenced by other peoples reactions or lack of....i.e nobody flinched when the announcment was made which made him doubt his self, and nobody started to get ready for their exit(close their books, start moving etc)

  6. Yes, good comment.

    It reminds me of an example happening to me many years ago - I rang the bell but the driver didn't stop until the next stop (maybe I should've rang it further before the stop) - it turned out this was the last stop "in town" - and I ended up 2 miles out in the Swedish countryside - on a cold Feb evening.

    If I'd had that experience in mind when the announcement was made on the airport bus I think I'd have been ringing the bell like crazy!

    Great comment!

    It reminds me that communication between people only really happens effectively when you're both on the same page (sharing similar perspectives) - not easy for a bus driver to achieve in a short time.