Written By: Madeline Cheney
Forty-five years to the day prior to Med One’s founding on April 1, 1991, a tsunami devastated Hawaii on April 1, 1946. The tsunami originated as an 8.6 magnitude earthquake off of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and reverberated down the Pacific to Hawaii in a little over four hours after the quake struck. Over 173 people were killed or swept out to sea in Hilo, Hawaii, by tidal waves surging to 55 feet. Over 160 people were injured, 488 buildings were demolished, and another 936 buildings were damaged. It remains in history as the worst tsunami disaster to have taken place on U.S. soil.
Almost immediately after the earthquake took place in Alaska, waves that reached 45-130 feet obliterated the Scotch Cap Lighthouse located on Unimak Island, Alaska, killing all five lighthouse keepers. This prevented them from sending a warning signal. Though, at the time, there were not sophisticated methods to alert others of the impending danger anyway. The first tsunami warning center didn’t become operational until three years later, near Pearl Harbor.
In Hawaii, the waves came quickly, leaving most people no time to prepare, but some did see early signs of the tsunami and ran inland. Along the way, they warned others that a tsunami was coming, but many ignored them. Why? Because the date was April 1 – April Fools’ Day. This tsunami has since been known as the April Fools’ Day Tsunami.
From this tragedy, we can learn several lessons about communication that can be applied both in the workplace and in personal relationships.
1. Don’t just be clear.
Make sure the message you are trying to communicate is being received. In other words, make sure the other person is picking up what you are putting down! Often, we communicate in the way that we understand rather than thinking about how the other individual will best understand. The message from the individuals who saw early signs of danger was arguably crystal clear as they ran shouting, “there is a tsunami coming!” However, despite how “clear” they were, others did not internalize and act on their warnings, which made them futile.
2. Understand the other person’s point of view.
Try to understand what context the other person has. Assuming they already know certain information or hold a certain belief will hinder your ability to get information across. For example, if those that were trying to warn others of the impending tsunami had remembered it was April Fools’ Day, they may have been able to counter any beliefs that they were playing a practical joke.
3. Don’t overestimate your communication skills.
Often, we communicate in the way that we understand rather than thinking about how the other individual will best understand.
Most people believe that others should improve their communication skills, but few actually believe that they are one of the people that need to. Maintaining the belief that your own communication does not need improvement increases the probability that you will miscommunicate. Fortunately, after this incident, tsunami warning centers were put into place so necessary warning signals could be sounded. Likewise, we must make sure that we are willing to increase our communication ability and skills when necessary.
Good communication is essential – we may not ever be in a situation in which we are warning others about a tsunami, but we all must communicate important information regularly. Without the ability to communicate well, frustration and misunderstanding are sure to follow. By increasing your ability to communicate effectively, you will be able to reach higher levels of performance and enhance your workplace culture.