To realize peer advantage – the outcome of being more selective, strategic, and structured about how you engage your peers – effective communication is essential. One ground rule that I learned in a most unfortunate way, back in the ninth grade, is that when you send someone a message (verbally or in writing), you are also responsible for the receipt of the message by your audience as intended. I didn’t learn this important lesson in a classroom or working for the school newspaper. I learned it during a track meet, and as you’ll discover soon enough, you’ll see why I’ve never forgotten it.
To make a long story short, I was on the track team for that one year. I typically ran the mile, but at the last meet of the season, I was also asked to fill-in as the third leg on our undefeated one-mile relay team. No problem I thought. I had practiced this many times and was looking forward to contributing however I could. I ran the third leg, starting slightly back in second place. By the time I was ready to pass the baton, I had taken the lead. Our anchor leg was the fastest kid in the city. No way we could lose. As I was passing the baton, I felt a brief moment of excitement, until of course the baton hit the ground. So much for our undefeated season. I was devastated, and I don’t think the members of that relay team have spoken to me since. After the race, I was searching for answers as to how this may have happened. Turns out, the coach wasn’t bashful about offering me some clarity, stating in no uncertain terms that it was my fault. “You should never let go of the baton until you’re certain the receiver has grasped it,” he said.
It’s hard to miss the relevance to communication. Like it or not, the responsibility lies with those delivering the message, not those receiving it. You can’t just say, “it was in the e-mail” or “sure, it’s right there in paragraph 8.” If you want to experience true peer advantage, you have to accept the responsibility that comes with it. You should never let go of the baton until you know that the recipients have received the message. It’s only at that point you can relax and let them run with it.
Next week, I’ll cover how the concept of triads in peer advisory groups offers true peer advantage when it comes to effective communication. Among other things, employing triads will provide extra insurance that will help you avoid what happened to me.