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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Don’t be Mr. E

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

mystery miscommunication character

Who is Mr. E and why shouldn’t I be him?

Good question.

He is the guest contestant in the “Miss Communication” pageant.

In this pageant, 10 “contestants” vie for the title of Mis-Communication, including Miss Understanding, Miss Aligned, Miss Interpretation, Miss Print, Miss Pronounce, Miss Taken, Miss Information, Miss Conception, Miss Spelled, and Miss Perception.

Who is Mr. E?

As with the other contestants, saying his name reveals his identity. Say “Mr. E” quickly and you get “mystery.” What does Mr. E, or mystery, have to do with miscommunication?

Mr. E is present whenever an apparent lack of communication takes place or when communication failure occurs.

Mr. E shows up often: A message is never created. Or never sent. Or never acknowledged. If you send a message and get no response you wonder: Was it delivered? How was it received?

A mystery that leaves you hanging – maybe the worst type of miscommunication – no communication.

What is communication failure?

The concept of communication failure has been described by Osmo Wiio, a Finnish journalist, in his seven laws, the first one being: “Communication usually fails, except by accident.” (1)

“Communication failure” is often synonymous with all types of miscommunication. In this blog we are narrowing it to instances where communication failed to occur or ceased for some reason.

In other words, the flow of communication broke down anywhere along the path from sender to receiver and back again.

Is Mr. E a problem? Can he be prevented?

What are the causes of communication breakdowns? What are the consequences?

To answer the first and last questions: is Mr. E a problem and what are the consequences? The response is YES – and potentially deadly.

According to the report “Malpractice Risks in Communication Failures” (2), more than 30% of the 23,000 medical malpractice lawsuits studied involved “inadequate communication of critical information” including information that is “unrecorded, misdirected, never received, never retrieved, or ignored.”

Each and every one of those words describe Mr. E. Even worse, the incidence of communication failure was 37% in high-severity cases. Scary.

Healthcare is not the only place Mr. E shows up. He is responsible for, or plays a leading role in, many business and relationship failures.

Why do these communication breakdowns occur? There are many reasons, including information overload, inattention, time pressures, distractions, emotions, and poor retention. (3)

If we send an email to a colleague who receives hundreds of emails on the same day and we don’t get a response should we jump to the conclusion that our colleague is mad at us or won’t follow through? No, we should give them the benefit of the doubt and follow-up.

How can we prevent Mr. E from causing communication failure?

  • As a sender, be articulate. Clear and concise. Use words your audience understands.

  • Proofread before hitting send. Make sure it is going to the right receiver. Double check.

  • Select channels wisely. Some messages need to be delivered face-to-face. Others are best in writing.

  • Provide a clear call to action if you desire a response. Keep it simple.

  • As a receiver, pay attention. Listen. Read carefully. Remove distractions.

  • Acknowledge receipt promptly if possible. Determine follow-up and record. If you receive too many messages and have too little time – delegate this task if possible.

  • Reply thoughtfully. Double check. If emotions are present, allow time to calm down.

Don’t be Mr. E. Keep communication flowing. Unless sender and receiver are fully present, Mr. E will be.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

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