Friday, 19 September 2008

The Measure of Your Communication

If, like me, you train regularly, you'll know how easy it is to put your foot in it.

I was reminded of this training truth recently when I read the obituary of one of the UK's finest support comedians, John Junkin.

Junkin had been a schoolmaster before treading the boards. The story goes that one day while taking a class of particularly uninspired fourth formers, Junkin had spotted a boy at the back of the room chewing gum.

Summoning him to the front, Junkin stretched out a finger and pointed at the wastepaper basket where he expected the boy to spit out the gum.

The crestfallen boy walked over to the basket and, completely misunderstanding the silent instruction, obediently if sullenly, climbed in to take his punishment.

History does not record the reaction of the class and Junkin himself. My guess is, he would have laughed his head off.

The same thing, of course, happens every day in the training room.

I can't recall the number of times I've placed a set of handouts in front of the nearest person with the instruction, "Please pass these round", only to look up a moment or two later to see all the handouts being passed from person to person and ending up in a pile in front of the person at the back of the room. I now suspect that trainees see that one coming and just play along for laughs.

Because laughs is what it is all about, as I'm sure John Junkin would have acknowledged.

Comedy is always about mis-communication. When it's between authority figures, like trainers and managers, and those in their charge, it's even funnier.

For example, how could you possibly keep a straight face if you heard this one from the vicar in the pulpit: "As this is Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar."

Or this from a serious politician: "The car is killing 50 people a day across our nation. Let's resolve to do better."

Or this from an old radio advertisement: "When you're thirsty, try 7-Up, the refreshing drink with the big 7 on it and u-p after it."

I sometimes hope that my communications training only achieves a 90% success rate. Because that would leave a good 10% for some great bloopers and some great laughs!

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