By
Paula Dixon

My friend is a prominent architect in Chicago. Many of his projects are high-rise buildings in Chicago, Dubai, and China. Tucked in his portfolio is a supply of what he refers to as “special projects.” One experience was the design of the Great Ape House at Lincoln Park Zoo. He tells me that in approaching the project, he was educated on three separate responses that could occur by three different Great Ape species to one item introduced into their environment. That item is the good ole screwdriver. The explanation is as follows: If a screwdriver was introduced into the habitat of a Lowland Gorilla (400+ lbs. of pure strength), their reaction would be one of fear towards an unknown object. If introduced to a Chimpanzee, they would pick it up and immediately use it as a weapon, stabbing whoever and whatever was nearby. An Orangutan, on the other hand, would pretend not to see it and, when others are distracted, it would disappear. Later that night, they would use it to disassemble their cages and make their escape.

It occurs to me that each of us needs to be mindful that others could respond very differently to a single situation. Efforts must be taken to build healthy relationships and anticipate how others may receive or act upon the information we deliver. A clear understanding of a person’s communication preferences forms a good foundation.  

Our statistics show us that 30 percent of our construction industry disputes arise from a breakdown in communication. An average office professional will receive over 121 emails per day. Emails are part of our daily lives and a primary path of communication. They can be a constructive productivity tool or a weapon that we use against ourselves. You will need to avoid the trap of assuming these preferences are solely generational. It’s important to ask and to observe each other’s preferences to receive an email, a phone call, or an in-person meeting.  

To improve in this area, we have found success in delivering Business Email-Writing training. Our business skills are poor in drafting emails that deliver our intended messages. Given the litigious nature of our world, it’s critical to treat this common form of communication with the attention it needs and think very carefully about what we write and why we write it. 

It’s a zoo out there. Be careful what you lay down and how it may be picked up and used.