Posts Tagged ‘signalling’

Bad signalling


A couple of weeks ago, I was driving behind a cab, ready to turn left in the next street, when I was surprised by the taxi driver turning on his turn-light, signalling me he was also going to turn left. I smiled internally, thinking of my previous blog entry about signalling, but the driver stopped a couple of meters before the street, and waited there. Of course, with myself stucked behind him and trying to maneuver to follow my way. He pissed me off, but for not too long.

I talked about the importance of signalling, being it to get help from others or to help others to plan their actions. In the case I mentioned, the taxi driver’s action of using the turn light was as if he were saying me “Hey, no need to overpass me! I will turn shortly”. But no, he was not. It was a terrible signal. I understood he was helping me, but his action made me change my probable course of action and I ended worse than with no signalling at all.

In fact, it can be a hell of a strategy. You signal a competitor that you are going to increase your prices, for example, and you do nothing after his price increase. Or you can tell your team you will probably go to another area so they fight for your future vacant site, increasing some performance figure, but do nothing. It has its drawbacks, also: people learn. The human being is no stupid. Someone said that one can fool few people for a long time, or many people for a short time; but even that truth is limited: those few learn and next time will be very difficult to cheat.

I really prefer not to bad signal. I have a reputation and that reputation is my presentation letter, and the reason why many people at my company trust me and my decisions. It is a way of life.

Going on with the taxi driver’s case, I finally maneuvered to overpass him and, ready to curse him, I saw his front yellow turn-right light turn on and blinking, as I saw the rear-left one. I understood immediately: the driver put the emergency stop lights, not the left turn light, but probably the rear-right light was burnt off. His real message was “Hey! Overpassme, since I will stop and I don’t wat you getting stuck behind me”. A lesson to learn.

Being my main professional background about communications engineering, I could easily explain the problem as “line noise”. A message is deliverd, another message arrived, and was the message arrived which was interpreted. I didn’t misunderstood the message; I was interpreting the incorrect one. Anyway, the lesson here would be: ensure about the understanding of the receiving part is coherent with the message you intended to send. People’s histories are very different, and each history lead us to interpretation of a message in a different way. And that is not taking into account the different cultures, where the gap can be larger.

Speaking about signals, please, can someone signal me that this post is being read?  Any kind of signal :-)


    Diego :D



I know that some day I will learn; in the meantime, I will continue making this kind of mistakes and collecting stories to share with you…

I was driving in a street and, having to turn right next corner, I positioned myself on the righmost lane. Some meters before the crossing the car ahead of me stopped without a warning, the driver step out the car and started to help his children out of it, there, stopped in the middle of the street. He was there three or four minutes during which I haven’t had a chance to change lanes to follow my way. I ended up really pissed off.

It is probably not the best example of what we are teached about signalling, but I think it applies to the concept. We face everyday situations like that one. We want to do something and we depend on the action or inaction if someone else to be allowed to do our movement. In my “story of the day”, if only the driver just turned on the emergency lights announcing his intention to stop, I wouldn’t changed my lane and continued my way without a problem.

We use to apply the term “signalling” to strategic decisions about competition moves, but it can be used more widely. For example, when someone from our team wants to do something we know it will be of negative impact in someone else, but we decide to silently let him do it and later stop him in the middle of the move, we fail to signal him. You can’t stop in the air after jumping; if you didn’t wanted me jumping, signal me before starting. The sooner the better.

We do it everyday; a look to let him pass ahead of me into the elevator, an email to warn about the effect a delay in the project will have in the company’s results, or simply the distribution of a new edition of the Code of Ethics of the company, can be an effective signal for those who are looking for them. Off course, some people need bigger signals than others, so feedback is necessary to be sure everyone understood the warning.

Going further, the same idea applies to our people’s careers. We can signal our teams if they can grow in other areas or if they can’t grow anymore in the company, for example, or if they must change some attitude or get a new skill to continue working with us; they can take a different decision path if only know that someone or something ahead will stop them.

From very small and almost insignificant situations, to very important ones, even to the point that it can change the life of someone, we are responsible if we could signal the other part and we fail to do it. Battles and wars have been won without human losses, just with the right amount of signals. And it is also our responsibility to understand the signals from the other parts. It is useless, or even harmful to ourselves, to ignore them.

I must stop writing right now. I think some is trying to yell me something, but I can not hearing him because the fire alarm is too loud.


Diego :D