This is a story of college guys who knew the value of communication.

College dormitories were much less luxurious when I moved into one 40+ years ago. I was happy just to have air-conditioning. There were no private bathrooms. Each end of the hall sported a communal bathroom with open showers.

One interesting feature of the plumbing was that when someone flushed a toilet, all the cold water was diverted to it. Anyone enjoying a warm shower suddenly found the experience painful. Nothing but hot water poured from the shower heads.

As students, we didn’t wait for the university to “do something about it.” We found our own solution. Just before flushing a toilet, we would yell, “Showers!!!” and pause for a moment to give fellow students time to move aside. We knew how flushing the toilet would affect others; therefore, we let others know so they could be prepared.

What happened to my internet connection?

That’s the question I asked recently when an important email I had finished would not send. I open another browser. Nothing. I asked my wife, who was only moments from needing to log into a scheduled video conference, if she had an internet connection. No such luck.

I was just about to reboot the router and call our internet service provider to report a problem when my wife noticed a truck in front of the house. I went out to greet a workman who quickly provided an answer to why I had no internet service. He had turned it off, not just for me, but for a large part of the neighborhood.

The workman was sent to perform a task that would require putting the internet down for its customers. He knew it. His boss knew. The only problem was, nobody thought it might be important to let customers know it. It was the modern-day equivalent of flushing the toilet, knowing it’s going to scald those on the other side of the tile wall, but neglecting to yell “Showers!!!”

I felt like if the company knew my internet connection would be down, then that information should have been passed on to me and other customers. That way, we could plan accordingly. He agreed, but noted that was not part of their “protocol.” And how would they even be able to communicate the information?

Well, the company knew the area that would be impacted when the worker “flipped the switch.” The company knows the addresses, phone numbers, and emails of its customers in that area. Sending a single email or text message to everyone involved doesn’t seem difficult in a 2024 world. After all, they seem to be able to email a bill every month. The real problem was that the right pair of eyes hadn’t landed on the problem.

Who needs to know?

What about where you work? When decisions are made, do you have good procedures that ensure that people who need to know do know? Is this someone at the table who is prone to saying, “This sounds great. Now, who needs to know about what we just did?” Maybe you are that person.

Nobody likes surprises. Yes, surprises are inevitable in life. But why add to the surprises we can’t control additional ones we can control? What’s needed is a good…one like the guys in the dorm developed two generations ago.

Life lessons

I don’t know if the university ever solved the plumbing issue. At some point, the entire dormitory was torn down, but memories of good times and good friends remain. I can’t speak for the entire floor, but those on our end turned out pretty well. We learned many lessons, both inside and outside of the classroom. One of those life lessons was this: When your actions are about to impact other people, always remember to yell “showers!”

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