We were on the trail of the renowned explorer and had found the Mayan temple entrance where he had disappeared decades ago.  His goal had been to find the chocolate idol of the gods (a worthy goal).  After some trial and error, we pieced together the ancient clues and found ourselves in front of a curving path up to the sun's image.  Our task was for one team member to hoist two ropes connected to each side of a curved bar and lift a ball along the path up to the top.  However, the path was curving and very narrow, and any misstep would cause the ball to fall back down to the bottom.  Making this even more complicated was that the person pulling the ropes couldn’t see the path.  The other team member had to relay instructions that must be followed carefully and precisely.  We quickly realized that we were looking at the problem literally from different directions (the rope on the right side controlled the bar on the left side and vice versa for the other rope).  And, to raise the bar, the rope on the opposite side had to be pulled down, which added an interesting dilemma.  If the guide wanted the left side to go up, they had to say pull down on the right side.  After switching sides multiple times and trying to clearly articulate a better lexicon to communicate our instructions, it became evident that the task may be insurmountable.  Ultimately, we had to implore the gods to pity us and let us pass.  They found mercy on us, and we eventually found the idol!

This puzzle showed how communicating clearly can be challenging even when we can clearly understand the problem and have had the opportunity to work on an issue from both sides.  In this case, the message needed to be translated at the moment (for example, saying “left” when you meant “right” and saying “up” when you meant pulling “down” on the rope).  Additionally, there were the problems of balancing a ball on a bar where any small moves could cause the ball to roll and change position, requiring small changes (for example, “up just a little on the left”) or needing to have the other person more or stop quickly.

Communication is critical to almost everything we do.  It takes patience, practice, and the ability to appreciate that a message is only delivered effectively if it is both sent and received accurately.  It takes the ability to effectively understand and provide what you want to say and how it is being received and interpreted.  Errors can occur on both sides.  And it can become even more complicated when we assume what another meant when they might be trying to adjust it for us simultaneously.

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