Failed Communication


Sunday, April 14, 1912

The Titanic receives numerous messages that there is a lot of ice built up in the seaways

Monday, April 15, 1912 – 4:15 AM

Canadian Government Marine Agency

“Titanic Sinking. Steamers towing her toward Cape Cod to beach her!”

Monday, April 15, 1912

Reports that Titanic has hit an iceberg, but all passengers saved

Monday, April 15, 1912 – Noon

Reports that all passengers are transferring to other ships

Monday, April 15, 1912

Reports that the Carpathia, Baltic, Virginian, and Olympic are close by to pick up passengers

Monday, April 15, 1912

“Titanic badly damaged, but still afloat. White Star line reports that the ship is in no immediate danger.”

Monday, April 15, 1912

White Star Line President Franklin says all passengers are being taken to Halifax

Monday, April 15, 1912 – Last wireless message of the day

“All Titanic’s Passengers Safe!”

Monday night, April 15, 1912, the world slept in peace.

Tuesday morning, the world woke up to a different story. Onboard the Carpathia deck, out at sea, sat Thomas Whitley, a first saloon steward. Whitely overheard a conversation between the two seamen who had been in the crow’s nest and had first seen the iceberg. “I heard one of them say that at 11:15 o’clock, 15 minutes before the Titanic struck, he had reported to First Officer Murdock, on the bridge that he fancied he saw an iceberg! Twice after that, the lookout said, he warned Murdock that a berg was ahead. They were very indignant that no attention was paid to their warning.”

The Californian sat in the sea within visual sight as the crew saw flares rise in the sky, asking for help. The radio switched off for the night, sat silent. As the flares faded, the Californian crew went to bed, the captain failing to respond.

The death of the Titanic is an example of a significant breakdown in communication. 

The Titanic captain ignored the messages of people who knew what he had ahead of him. Over and over, for some reason, these messages were unheeded.

The media communicated without having all the facts. Messages made it to the public without being checked out and spread rapidly. Some became misquoted entirely. On Monday evening, the news reported  “All Titanic’s Passengers Safe”; in actuality it should have stated, “Are all Titanic’s Passengers Safe?” A simple change in punctuation changed its meaning.

A first officer was slow in responding to the warnings. Some say it was 15 minutes, others say that the phone rang for 3-5 minutes before he answered the crow’s nest. Either of these would have been plenty of extra time to either avoid a collision or be slow enough to do little damage.

Finally, the failure to pay attention to the communication from the Titanic by the Californian. A decision sealing the fate of over 1,800 people. 

In our world, communication or lack of it is a significant factor in success and failure. 

Communication that is done too quickly without proper preparation and prayer will often leave more questions than answers. One of the dangers is to rush too soon into communicating without considering the effect it may have.

On the other hand, communication that delays too long leaves room for rumors and miscommunication that has to be corrected before you can move on to what needs to be said.

Communicating is not merely announcing. Communicating includes not only the “what” but also the “how” and especially the “why.” Leaving any of these elements out leaves holes in the communication. 

The Titanic story teaches the pitfalls of poor communication. Some of the failures arose from poor communication, and some failed by poor listening. 

Congregations appreciate and trust the leaders when they take the time to communicate the “what, how, and why” of decisions. There have been several decisions made that members have come to me and expressed their appreciation for how the elders had communicated a decision. That’s what develops trust in leaders.

Our country has faced chaos and dissension because of poor communication over the past months. Misstated facts, half stories, and sharing items in such a manner that leads to false interpretation have flooded our society. This failure in communication has resulted in a divided nation. 

There have been many times where my communication has failed, causing what I say to face misinterpretation. We all have said something that was received differently than what we meant to express. A quote attributed to Alan Greenspan describes it this way, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

We must learn to listen carefully before we speak. Before we communicate, we must remember to check for truth. Proverbs 6 warns, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

I believe James had the best idea about how we should communicate when he said, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ


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