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CRAIG'S BLOG

Craig Huntington

Craig Huntington

Address the Problem; Solve the Problem

Posted by Craig Huntington
Craig Huntington
Craig Huntington received his Bachelor of Science degree in business from Oregon
User is currently offline
on Monday, 07 November 2011 in Blog

That sounds ridiculously simple, doesn’t it? You have to address the problem to solve the problem. Let me explain.

Two weeks ago, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa had a problem.

With the World Series between the Cardinals and Texas Rangers tied at two games each and the score in important Game 5 knotted at 2-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Rangers had two men on base with one out and their hottest hitter, catcher Mike Napoli in the on-deck circle.

Earlier in the inning, LaRussa had phoned the Cardinals bullpen and asked one of his coaches to get Cardinals left-handed reliever Mark Rzepczinski warmed up and ready to pitch, and have the team’s hard-throwing right-hander Jason Motte get up and start getting loose – in case LaRussa needed him. The Cardinals manager wanted Motte, who routinely throws 98 mph fastballs, ready to pitch to the right-handed hitting Napoli if he came to the plate.


(Note: In baseball terms, the “bullpen” is where the Cardinals relief pitchers watch the game, throw warm-up pitches when requested and wait to enter the game.)


What LaRussa said when he phoned the bullpen was “Get Rzepczinski up… and Motte easy.”

This command translates to mean that the bullpen coach should have the pitcher Rzepczinski get warmed up and ready to enter the game. It also means that pitcher Motte should start to loosen up by throwing the ball in a relaxed manner – as a prelude to a full-blown warm-up session.

But that isn’t what happened.

When the bullpen coach picked up the ringing telephone and tried to hear LaRussa’s instruction over the 50,000 screaming Rangers fans, what he heard was “Get Rzepczinski up.”

Blame the crowd noise. Blame the speech pause between the two parts of LaRussa’s request. Blame the pressure-packed situation. Blame the bullpen coach’s premature hang-up on an urge to move quickly and respond to his manager’s request. For whatever reason, the “Motte easy” request didn’t make it over the phone line to the Cardinals' bullpen. It stayed in the dugout with LaRussa.

So when the Rangers’ David Murphy hit a ball that bounced off Rzepczinski’s glove and loaded the bases for the dangerous Mike Napoli, LaRussa was ready to bring in the fire-baller, Jason Motte. Unfortunately for LaRussa and the Cardinals, Motte was still sitting down in the bullpen and would take several minutes to get warmed to the point where he could enter the game.

With no other alternative, LaRussa left Rzepczinski in the game to pitch to Napoli. Licking his chops, the Texas catcher ripped a two-run double off the right centerfield wall for the game-winning hit.

Rangers 4, Cardinals 2. LaRussa, media hailstorm.

“When there’s stuff that went on in that inning with the bullpen and who’s up and who’s not, that’s miscommunication,” LaRussa said. “In the end, that comes totally on the coach – or the manager.”

Luckily for LaRussa, the Cardinals won games 6 and 7 in St. Louis to become this year’s World Series champions. If they hadn’t, LaRussa and that miscommunication would have been scrutinized for decades as an inexcusable error that cost the Cardinals their title.

So often, the genesis of a problem isn’t really the issue. It’s miscommunication.

The problem can be work-related. You’re having issues with your boss, your colleague, your staff. You’re running into problems with your product line, your supplier, your distributor. Sales are off. Morale is down. People are under-performing.

The problem could be personal. You can’t get a date. You’re overweight. You can’t get yourself to the gym. You can’t seem to find that job or hobby that really moves you.

The problem could stem from a relationship. Your significant other doesn’t communicate. Your kids are hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Your friends don’t seem to call as much. We all have our own list.

The key always has been and always will be effective, open communication. Being both open and effective is not as easy as it sounds. Why? Because most of us fail miserably at consciously “focusing” on communication. We take it for granted. I talk, you talk. What’s the big deal?

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, summed it up this way: “The problem with communication… is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”

Communication is both verbal and non-verbal, so it’s more than just the words that come out of our mouths. It’s also about our intent and our sincerity. Too often what we think is communication is just trying to get our own way, to win a point, to make an impression.

And then there is the truly perplexing problem known as “active listening.” Most everything we learn is through active listening, and most of us aren’t very good at it. On average, they say that we only remember about 25% of what we hear. Why? Here are five common blunders that impair our ability to listen, retain, and learn:

*We forget to Acknowledge
*We forget to Probe
*We forget to Be Quiet
*We forget to Leave Out the Emotion
*We forget to Ask for Clarification

We’re always trying to figure out how to get our own points across instead of really listening. We’re always figuring out what we’re going to say next. How can you probe or acknowledge or ask for clarification if you’re already thinking about the next thing coming out of your mouth?

True leadership and effective communication begin with understanding. Review those blunders listed above and focus on your communication this week. Look for opportunities to improve your active listening and enhance your own communication skills – in person, via teleconference, by email and text messaging.

Or over the phone.

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