What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” was the famous line uttered by Strother Martin in the 1967 classic motion picture “Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Newman. This memorable line applies directly and indirectly to everything we do, or try to do, every day.

That’s because communication is the thread that runs through it all. It can literally make or break you.

There are many ways to describe the process. Here’s my short version. “Message sent” is not necessarily the same thing as “message received.” Message received is not the same as “message understood.” Message understood is not the same as “message acted upon.” And even if the message is nominally received, understood and acted upon in a timely manner, the achievement of the goal or goals may still break down.

The message may have been only partially received. And even if it is received in full, may have only been partially understood. As a result, the actions taken may or may not be in full accordance with the “clear” instructions provided, which may ultimately not have been so clear after all. And finally, the actions taken may simply end up being ineffective, which may or may not become immediately apparent to those executing the plan, directing it, or both.

The points of possible failure are many, and it’s an unforgiving environment. Roger Wilco (received and understood)? Well, maybe or maybe not.

The establishment of effective communications takes a lot of work. To retain it requires continued maintenance. It helps a great deal to periodically review the terminology, clarify the definitions and meanings of the various terms used, and thoroughly go over how it all works in the specific context of what you’re doing.

Operations change, and so do personnel. Everyone may not be speaking precisely the same language, literally or figuratively.

As time passes, good and bad habits can develop and become entrenched. No one is immune from this reality. It takes discipline to not take good communications for granted, assuming you had them in the first place.