The “Hand on the Shoulder” Principle

How often have you found yourself exasperated, declaring, “But I told you!” only to be met with the counterclaim, “You did not say!”? The clash of perspectives arises because, in reality, you did communicate clearly, but the other party failed to listen attentively. This common scenario leads to messages slipping through the cracks, causing frustration on both ends.

Allow me to share an anecdote from my early 2000s stint as a producer in a high-pressure newsroom. In the news system’s relentless schedule, every minute counts, and a half-hour newscast demands precision. Articles are often edited up to the last minute, arriving just moments before or even during the broadcast. In this chaotic environment, an oversight can disrupt the entire transmission.

One day, I observed an article failing to make it to air because the assistant director, crucial for announcing the next segment, didn’t hear the news of its arrival. The reason? The assistant director was deeply focused on his role and missed the reporter’s announcement as they entered the control room.

Enter the “hand on the shoulder procedure.” This ingenious solution aimed to ensure that messages were not just sent but received. The editorial staff adopted a simple rule: when an article arrived during a broadcast, they would place a hand on the assistant director’s shoulder to confirm awareness. The outcome? A substantial reduction in missed broadcasts and a smoothly running transmission.

The “hand on the shoulder” principle, a simple act of verifying message absorption, transcends the newsroom and can be applied universally. At home, it becomes a tactic to gain a child’s attention amidst games or screens. In professional realms, especially in an era of heightened sensitivity like Me Too, this principle becomes a nuanced yet effective strategy for achieving your goals.

In essence, when conveying a message, it’s imperative to ensure the other party is receptive. It’s about creating a moment of connection—physically or conceptually. Only then can you confidently declare the message received.

Note: This article was expertly refined by Tamar Warshawsky Merkin, a project manager at the Ministry of Health digital office, currently benefiting from Agile-Spirit’s mentoring for enhanced performance and employee satisfaction.



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