Anne Reuss

Overcoming Communication Barriers: A Team Effort

By: Anne Reuss | September 17, 2015 | 
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Overcoming Communication Barriers: A Team Effort

By Anne Reuss

Dealing with personal and professional obstacles come a little easier when you’re able to conquer physical obstacles. It’s a true test of how badly you want it.

The Spartan Sprint is one example.

In May, I competed in the Open Sprint at the Milwaukee Brewers Stadium. I relished all the obstacles and every sweat drop, while pushing my limits.

When I saw my results—1st in my age group and 7th in females in the Open Sprint—I knew I had to try the Chicago Elite Sprint in August.

But there were some accessibility issues and overcoming communication barriers was a challenge. (For those who are just meeting me, I’m Deaf!)

I noticed I had no clue what the starting line announcer had to say. Some of the obstacles had volunteers hollering directions in multiple ways, making it hard to lip-read.

Most of them are easy to understand, but in preparing for the Elite, I knew the rules were strict and I didn’t want to affect my time overcoming communication barriers on the course.

So I studied the obstacle rules.

I came to a halt when I read this.

“Instructions given verbally during pre-race briefing by the Race Director, or given verbally at a specific obstacle, or in written event specific instructions, take precedence over rules below.”

Key word: Verbally.

I emailed customer support. I asked if they knew if there were going to be different rules and if I could have access, given the risk overcoming these communication barriers would be a challenge during the race.

Shut Down Faster Than I Can say “AROO!”

He was very quick to end the conversation. He said to be fair to the athletes, they couldn’t release any information so the racers are prepared for the unexpected and to train for anything and everything.

Understood, BUT…

In Spartan-like determination, I wasn’t going to take this lack of empathy lying down. I replied I was disappointed he was so quick to dismiss the conversation without solutions to help me in overcoming communications barriers presented.

I gave an example of having a transcript at the start line for me to read the same time as the runners, or alerting the volunteers in advance.

Do the accessibility issues like this mirror what I had—and continue to—tackle in my life?

Oh yes. And I told him exactly that, and it’s what attracted me to the Spartan brand.

Therefore, I saw this as an obstacle to be conquered. Overcoming communication barriers was now part of the challenge itself.

SEE THE SAD IRONY?

Overcoming Communication Barriers Can’t Be an Afterthought

I asked to speak to his manager or somebody appropriate. But I couldn’t because…he was the head of customer service.

He again subtly implied I was trying to gain an advantage and couldn’t do anything when there were money and prizes on the line. He would “indeed make the suggestion” to the race director to have a printed copy and that they were “working on making things like this better.”

Do they have a Deaf person on board? An accessibility specialist to help in overcoming communication barriers?

I don’t know.

I was OFFENDED. I would not belittle my training. I wish to compete with dignity. I stressed I wanted equal access on the race course and the Deaf community had a right. 

I Love Them, I Love Them Not…

Spartan Race was born out of overcoming adversity, which Joe DeSena describes as “Obstacle Immunity.”

Amen. Obstacles are a constant. We can count on them being there.

In my situation, overcoming communication barriers is what catapulted me in marketing in the first place. The thirst to fill in communication voids.

Fitness, and in this case Spartan training, is one way I breed my mental strength to persist through any obstacles courtesy of business and life.

Yet..they placed a big, fat obstacle in front of me which brings the question to:

Does the whole team understand what Spartan Culture is supposed to represent?

Overcoming Communications Barriers: Allies or Enemies?

Do you let one person affect your brand perception?

I debated with myself: Was it possible the whole team would have the same lax attitude when it came to overcoming communication barriers?

The Chicago race was a way to practice for more Elite races next season (plus a race with Laura Petrolino! Join us!?). I also had aspirations to start coaching business people on Spartan principles, physically and mentally, that they could apply to their business, too. I wanted to build a bridge to others facing obstacles to learn how to channel their inner beast.

I questioned for a split second: Maybe the Spartan Race wasn’t the place.

After rationalizing with myself, I came to the conclusion—I still want to be an ally and brand advocate if possible, but I’d like to use this story to remind them, and everybody else this:

Communicating your values on your website does not always mean you or your team knows how to act on them.

Lessons in Communicating Organizational Values

Make a habit—say, once every quarter—to send a survey to measure how aligned your team is with the company’s values. As we’ve learned from this very blog, if it doesn’t get measured, it won’t become consistent or a priority.

If you aren’t too keen on the result, it’s time to have a chit-chat. Your employees may be delivering subpar service without you knowing it.

When this situation happened, I flung into beast-making mode. I was relentless about getting it addressed and overcoming communication barriers at the race in one way or another. I worked to not let it affect how I felt about the brand because I wanted to use it as a way to improve the system and help others in overcoming communication barriers at the race.

However: Not everybody will rationalize how they feel about your brand! Avoid loud and unhappy customers by customer journey mapping and analyze all kinds of interactions customers have with your organization to get a feel whether it’s the experience you hope they’re getting.

Make it easy for your employees to see and hear! When I was training for Alpha Regionals, I took Jim Afremow’s advice from The Champion’s Mind: Make your environment “Gold First.”

Wear it. Write it on notecards and hide it in your bag.

Make posters.

Send reminder emails. 

Do the same for your mission! 

Go undercover as a curious, perplexed, angry, etc. customer and call/email your team to see how they handle the situation.

To the Customer Service Guy, and everybody else feeling stuck, I share a beast-making principle:

Don’t linger. The more you linger around the obstacles in your organization, or on the race course, the more deceptively bigger and cemented in your path they become.

About Anne Reuss


A fitness-fueled freelance digital marketer, Anne Reuss wants to help you supercharge your life and business through fitness. Her engine runs on peanut butter burgers and pull-ups. Being Deaf has given her superhuman listening powers & a love affair of obstacles - so get your mind and body engines ready and stop waiting for happiness and success to fall into your lap with her upcoming blog Lift Live Lead!

  • This lack of understanding and empathy in customer service drives me nuts. No matter what services you provide, you have to put yourself in your clients’ shoes. That’s the difference between a human doing the job and a machine. So if you keep reading the procedures, don’t be surprised one day, when your job is replaced by a robot!
    Great post Anne! I love your resilience and stubbornness to succeed. That’s what everyone needs to understand: to succeed and meet your goals, you just have to do everything it takes, and get out of the comfort zone.

  • Anne — to back up before addressing the Spartan question/post, I think about a previous post of yours OFTEN. The one where you talk about helping people prepare to climb the rock climbing wall ….. and you modify the way you give the instructions because you are deaf (and how that ended up leading to a “best practice” for your gym in many ways. // I am really really glad you were able to complete the race in August, and really really sad that the organization still maintained an oddly insensitive stance to your requests. As I shared, I recently did a 5K with a friend who is a visually impaired triathlete. As soon as we started discussing the race, she said “oh I can email the directors and you’ll get in for free because you’re my guide.” They not only let me in free, they emailed a few days before to make sure we were set. I consider that the GOLD STANDARD of how to handle an athlete who makes a reasonable request (and I don’t mean because I got in free ….. they truly wanted her to have a good experience and they were prepared to offer good customer service). // It is a challenge in the fitness world (sometimes) to combat the “WE ARE INVINCIBLE” mindset. As a back of the packer, I have been at races where the water stations were being taken down ahead of me because I was not meeting the minimum time, where there was no longer street security, etc. (it’s fine because I knew that going in) but …. an ARRAY of people participate in these things. The Spartan website says “Reebok Spartan Race is innovating obstacle racing on a global scale.” I think you have the potential to be a huge part of that innovation – by proving all the Spartan principles via your athleticism AND your grit.

  • AnneReuss

    Corina Manea Couldn’t have said it better. A rule of thumb I like to encourage: If things feel ridiculously comfortable, there’s something more waiting for you – go chase it! I realized after writing this posts, that obstacles have actually taught me it’s OK to ask for help. Be vulnerable. Be grateful we have goals we can chase. Doesn’t make us weak, it just opens up many more doors!

  • AnneReuss

    biggreenpen You’re such a rockstar. We need to join forces! Your friend sounds like a beast I’d love to meet someday. I’m also annoyed they take away the water! I may not have came in first in the Elite, and I may never do, but you know what? Sometimes I feel like an everyday champion because of my energy and commitment, and my dream is to get others to feel the same way, too from back of packers to elites. We all face different kind of struggles and obstacles, quietly or loudly, and I think Spartan races/fitness is a key part of teaching us how to embrace them. I’m glad I have a gritty comrade in you and you’re right – we need to get talkin’ to Reebok!

  • AnneReuss biggreenpen Agree! 🙂

  • ldiomede

    AnneReuss Yes, been far too http://long.How bout a Revolution Brew on my front porch soon? Glad you enjoyed the inquisition.

  • Go, Anne! You represent the deaf community very well! (I can say so myself!)  🙂 
    I’ve also experienced similar obstacles because of my hearing impairment. It’s terrible when people think you’re trying to use your disability to your advantage. It’s not only ignorant but incredibly offensive. 
    It’s not like you weren’t trying to help them come up with a solution that was fair for you and the other participants. They should have at least tried to accommodate you instead of dismissing you. They almost lost you as a brand advocate because of it! 
    I feel like if they thought what you were proposing was truly unfair to the other participants, they should have clearly explained their reasons to you first and worked out some sort of compromise with you later instead of outright assuming you were trying to gain an unfair advantage. 
    I’m glad you didn’t just sit there and take it, though! You are a Spartan Warrior!

  • AnneReuss

    biggreenpen The Iron Maven! I love it! Say, do you think anyone in the Spin Sucks community may have an idea of who/which department to reach out to first?

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