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.


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.

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!

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