Communications: providing both context and instructions

Bottom line

A small incident today reminds me of the importance of explaining not just what action you’d like taken but why. I have found this to be true so often that it’s become part of how I usually communicate with coworkers, supervisors, even my own family.

In brief

The message

We need either a new sewer outlet hose and a carrier to match, or just a new sewer outlet hose. Would prefer a longer hose and the ability to carry it. If using the existing carrier, there’s a bolt missing.

became, through the telephone game

Longer sewer outlet hose with carrier

and the work done merely

Replaced two missing screws from carrier

with the note

Currently has 47″ hose carrier, only has max 62″ space for different carrier

missing the (completely accomplishable) goal entirely.


In August we took our little Airstream on a two-week trip from Oregon to Navajo country then back through some of the national parks of northern Arizona and southern Utah. It was an amazing trip, but we had a variety of mishaps with the trailer along the way. High winds carried off our radio antenna, we struggled with a blockage in the sewage tank, the toilet valve started to leak (not in a gross way), we lost a rivet inside, the awning started to spring back sluggishly and then not at all, we blew out a backflow preventer leading to a flood of fresh water coming out from behind the kitchen cabinet, etc. And in the very last days of the trip our 12-year-old sewer hose finally started to crack, leading to a small but unpleasant situation when we went to dump our waste water.

Naturally, once we arrived home we cleaned things up as best we could and made an appointment with our local service provider. Once I started to explain our list of issues they smartly asked me to email the list, which I did, explained in detail.

The drop off day arrived, and I dutifully explained each issue to the service writer, who had prepared a repair order based on the email. The service writer said he thought my explanations, email, and the repair order all made sense, and I handed him the keys.

Weeks passed, and I received a call saying the repairs were complete. We made an appointment for me to pick up the trailer.

That brings us to today

Today was pick up day, but I returned home empty-handed. All of the repairs were done satisfactorily but one: I had neither a new sewer hose nor a carrier to match. All that was done was to replace screws needed to hold the existing carrier in place.

Looking over the repair order, line two had only the instructions

Longer sewer outlet hose with carrier

Those aren’t bad instructions, actually. If they had been fulfilled, I’d have taken the trailer home. Instead, the trailer still had the original hose and carrier.

Apparently the next size hose carrier is 64 inches long (162.5 science units) and there was only 62 inches of unobstructed space across the trailer to install a carrier, so the technician spotted and fixed what they could see as wrong, missing screws. They took a note to this effect

Currently has 47″ hose carrier, only has max 62″ space for different carrier. Replaced two missing screws from carrier

and stopped work. The effect of this is that the most important part of my problem, needing a new sewer hose, was not remedied, and the least important, this too-short hose carrier being loose, was all that was worked on.

What went wrong?

I can think of a handful of different things that someone could have done to improve the situation. But the most charitable interpretation is that my goal

new sewer outlet hose and a carrier to match, or just a new sewer outlet hose

didn’t make it to the technician. I probably have a hand in that miss, as does the service writer.

There also might be a little bit of rosh gadol at work here; come to find out also that I’m not stuck with my too-short 47 inch carrier or a too-long 64 inch carrier – there are adjustable hose carriers. And surely a technician can select a carrier, adjust it to a suitable length, test a new hose to see if it will fit, and finding a match install both and sell them to me.

(It also probably did not help that my expression of the goal included an “or.”)

The remedy

Today I told the service writer

My goal is to have a new sewer hose, and the means to carry it, installed on the trailer.

The exact manner of meeting that goal is open to interpretation, but if that goal makes it to the technician this time I’m confident I will have the result I seek.