Recently, I realized that something needed to change in my family life. With three busy daughters at three different schools who participate in multiple activities along with my full-time job as an anesthesiologist, my life depended on accurate and concise communication. However, this was the third time in a week that a ball had been dropped between my husband and me.
This time it resulted in my middle daughter, Laini, being left at practice, and the coach calling to figure out who was picking up this last straggler. It was enough to make me realize that something had to change.
The previous day, I had run a code in the GI suite at the hospital where I work. Everything had gone smoothly with team members, all understanding each other perfectly. If I could communicate effectively with a team of five health care members, why couldn’t I use these strategies to communicate with my own husband more effectively?
I lobbed the idea out that evening. Since his all-time favorite TV show is ER, he was fully on board with using code-running techniques to communicate with me. Our three daughters all have names that start with the letter “L,” so we decided to use that shorthand with both texting and talking.
L1=Lexi (our 15-year-old 10th grader; she can’t drive yet but has lots of places she “needs to go”)
L2=Laini (our 11-year-old 6th grader; she loves sports and has a practice almost every night but hates to be late)
L3=Leyton (our 9-year-old 3rd-grader; she also is busy with a wide array of sporting activities but gets sidetracked getting out the door by our kitty, Tucker)
We began our experiment the next day. Our text message exchange:
Me: After school, I will pick up L1 and take her home to get a snack since she has late basketball practice. You will pick up L3, and go get L2 from school. Then you will take L2 to volleyball practice before going home. I will meet you at home. You will need to have L2’s volleyball bag in your vehicle. Once we meet at home, I will take L3 to basketball practice and go to the gym for my workout. You will take L1 to her basketball practice at 5:30 p.m. I will pick up L2 after my workout. You are in charge of getting L3 home from her basketball practice.
Husband: I am in charge of getting L3 and then L2 from school. I will then take L2 to her volleyball practice and will have her bag already in my vehicle. I will see you at home after that and will then take L1 to her basketball practice at 5:30 p.m. You will pick up L2, and I will pick up L3. Who is in charge of picking up L1 from her basketball practice? See, I can close the loop!
Besides using closed-loop communication in that exchange, many of the other essential parts of code running are evident.
Clear messages. Information was conveyed with no extra lingo or details.
Clear roles and responsibilities. There was no question about who was in charge of doing which pick up or drop off.
Know your limitations and ask for assistance early. My husband knows that I tend to underestimate driving time and run late, so he just asks that I let him know as soon as possible when the plan has to be changed.
Knowledge sharing. No one is telepathic, so it is important to not assume that the other person should already know the details (for instance, if a certain item is needed for practice, make sure to include that in the exchange).
Constructive intervention. If you see that a detail has been misunderstood, make sure to correct the information politely.
Summarizing and re-evaluation. My favorite part of the day has become the evening “debriefs” that my husband and I have about how the day went and discussing anything that could have been communicated better.
Since instituting closed-loop communication and other code running communication fundamentals into our marriage, we have had less bickering and more time to enjoy these years with our busy family.
Maria Michaelis is a pediatric anesthesiologist.
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