I Thought She Said, “Baby Shoes.” Reviving Communication Breakdowns

Yesterday afternoon I spoke with a good friend for the first time in a long while.  We had been extremely close for several years, but then I moved to another city, got married, and started having babies every twenty or so months (technically my wife has been having the babies, but it’s kept me relatively busy nonetheless).  Anyway, my friend and I hadn’t talked for a really long time and it was great to catch up.  It reminded me of how important it is to touch base every once in a while…regardless of how busy life gets.  This friend is practically a sibling, and with modern technology, it’s super simple to reach out…a great lesson for me to remember – take the time to connect with people that you care about!

Regardless, our conversation was going fine.  We were doing the whole, “What’s new?” thing.  “Are you still ‘yada, yada,?’” and “Have you seen ‘so and so’ lately?”  Turns out she’s become involved in a really cool non-profit project that offers free tax services to families in need and runs personal finance training programs for kids in inner city schools.  It sounded really exciting.  I was glad to hear that things were moving along smoothly.  Kids are great…husband’s happy…all is well!

Then it happened.  She told me that she had been taking some fashion classes at night, and that she is in the process of designing her own line of bathing suits…only I thought that she said, “baby shoes.”  As you know, there’s a big difference between bathing suits and baby shoes.  I’ve had all kinds of babies at my house, and I never noticed them wearing shoes.  Socks that looked like shoes maybe, but not shoes.  It could be that my babies aren’t fashion conscious.  Besides, who am I to question someone else’s ambitions?  Even if my babies didn’t/don’t wear shoes, I’m sure baby shoes exist.  Maybe there’s a big group of baby shoe consumers looking for fresh new designs.  Who knows?  So, I made a, “there’s a real gap in the infant tap dancing shoe market” joke, and went on about the tiny little cows that baby shoe makers get their leather from.  We had a few laughs, I told her that it all sounds very exciting, and we went on with our catching up.

As the conversation came to a close I wished her well and expressed my utmost confidence that her baby shoes were going to be the absolute best on the market.  She paused for a moment, and then she cracked up.  Through the cracking up she called me a few off colored but endearing names, and then she clarified, “BATHING SUITS…I’m making bathing suits, not baby shoes!”  Oops.  Didn’t I feel silly?  Yes I did.  We laughed some more then wrapped things up.  Good times.

The point is this, when you’re a person dealing with people…you’re dealing with the potential for all kinds of communication challenges.  As fate would have it, I happen to be a person, and I deal with people all of the time.  Yesterday I had a relatively comprehensive conversation with someone about the design and manufacturing of baby shoes, only the person I was talking to had no idea why.  Two people fully engaged in a conversation with one another but also on two very different pages.  Goofy when you’re talking to your friend, but maybe more significant and impactful when you’re talking to stakeholders in your school community.

From an educational leadership perspective communication is absolutely critical to positive progress.  The baby shoe mix-up wasn’t such a big deal.  It led to a few good laughs between two old friends.  As I mentioned above, it’s extremely easy to miscommunicate when you’re a human being, communicating with another human being; in large part because as you might recall, and with all due respect…human beings are fallible.  Sometimes we literally don’t hear so well (especially when we’re hearing though technology), sometimes we’re distracted, and sometimes we fall into an influential paradigm that might be well served by a bit of open-minded shifting.

That said, below are a few simple strategies that have served me well in the past.  Through practice and the commitment to ongoing reflective, analytical, and adaptive efforts, I’ll be working to recall and perpetuate them in the present and the future.  As an educational leader I can never spend too much time working to enhance my communication skills!

Assume good intentions (thank you Dr. Covey):

This is an oldie but a goodie, and I think that it truly holds up in every school communication situation.  If good intentions do exist, assuming them enhances the communication by reducing the chance of alternate and possibly negative perceptions.  If good intentions don’t exist, assuming them still keeps the communication positive.  Assuming good intentions doesn’t mean being naïve or been taking advantage of, it simply means searching for pathways to positive progress in every communication.  It means looking on the bright side.  It means being compassionate.  It means believing that regardless of energy or attitude in any given moment, that everyone in a school community has the wellbeing of children in mind.

Remember that everyone is someone, and that everyone is also someone to someone else (it makes sense to me):

Whether you’re talking to a student, a parent, a colleague, or anyone else, try to remember that people authentically cares about their own thoughts, ideas, and wellbeing, and that he/she is also cared about by someone else.  We should be working hard to make sure that every interaction we have suggests respect and value.  In other words, when you’re engaged in even the most challenging communication situations possible, consider how you would talk to your mother, your children, or your spouse about it.  Again, the person you’re talking to is someone to some else.

Never communicate emotions digitally:

Talk about the potential for miscommunication!  When things get heated…offer a phone number or an appointment book.  Use e-mail and other digital communication formats for the distribution of information.  Use voices and presence for the rest.  Trust me.

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” (Thanks again Dr. Covey!):

When I thread my communication through the focus of my students’ safety, comfort, joy, and achievement, it usually goes well…even through challenges.  As parents and educational leaders, we should never forget why we’re here, and each of us must always keep our eye on the ball!


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.

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