NASA Ames Research Center reported that 70% of all ASRS reports were because of communication errors, and expectation error was the highest single cause. Expectation error – the hearing or seeing what you have heard or seen in the past and assuming you will hear or see it when a similar situation arises – ranks among the top human factor errors.
When a radio communication breakup occurs, the pilot completes the command with what he/she thinks the thought should be. The pilot usually does not ask for a repeat or a clarification. Although there were no fatalities, there were serious repercussions.
How does this relate to your work environment? How many times do you “fill in the blanks” when your attention turns elsewhere? Your brain can only focus on one attention point at a time … only one! Everything else becomes background noise. When your mind drifts to the work on your desk, the phone calls you have to make or spending time with your family, you tune out everything else. In addition to that, your mind pieces together slices of today’s reality to correlate it to a situation you have encountered in your past.
So when you are talking with a colleague, team member or direct report and your blackberry chimes that you have new emails or a new phone call, do you automatically and unconsciously tune the other person out? And what important words are you missing when you do?
It’s not what they said, it’s what you think you heard.