Clear Communication in the Workplace: Think Out Loud

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Turn the Ship Around" by L. David Marquet. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you achieve clear communication in the workplace? What is the “think out loud” method?

Thinking out loud goes against Navy training and culture, which says that, when reporting something up the chain of command, you should say as little as possible. Submarine captain David Marquet threw out this tradition and instituted the “think out loud” method of clear communication in the workplace. It allowed him to keep quiet and let his team do their jobs.

Read more to learn about this method of achieving clear communication in the workplace and how it worked for Marquet.

Think Out Loud

Marquet thought the inspection had gone well, but he was still concerned about how involved he had to be in suggesting solutions to problems. While waiting for the final inspection report, he discussed his concerns with department heads.

They identified several possible reasons for the insufficient initiative. The primary one was a lack of clear communication in the workplace, particularly informal verbal communication. For instance, no one gave a heads up that the time to download the radio broadcast was approaching.

The department heads decided to actively encourage clear communication in the workplace and call it “thinking out loud.” When the captain made a decision, he’d go through his thought processes and reasons out loud. Officers would think out loud about concerns. While this might seem like indecisiveness, it would create a more resilient (less error-prone) system. This particular practice of clear communication in the workplace enhanced teamwork and smooth operations.

Above-Average Results

Commodore Kenny returned to the submarine and reported that the crew had earned an above-average rating. Further, he pronounced Santa Fe “a new ship,” thanks to the leader-leader model of decentralizing control.

Santa Fe’s above-average rating exceeded the mathematical average for the fleet. Marquet broadcast the news to the crew and could hear cheering in response. He cited specific examples of crew initiative and competence, and cited officers for their initiative as well.

While everyone wasn’t on board with the leader-leader model yet, enough people were using the three-name rule and “I intend to” statements to create a new impression of Santa Fe.

The success lent credibility to the leader-leader model and laid a foundation they could build on.

Mechanism: Think Out Loud

Thinking out loud is a mechanism for decentralizing control because when Marquet knew what his officers were thinking, it was easier for him to keep quiet and let them do their jobs.

Thinking out loud goes against Navy training and culture, which says that when reporting something up the chain of command, you should say as little as possible. But thinking out loud is critical to clear communication in the workplace and making the leader-leader model work.

Thinking out loud also is a mechanism for creating organizational clarity. If leaders just issue orders, people don’t need to understand your objectives. But in complicated environments like those in which submarines operate, it’s critical for leaders to share their experience and background information.

The “think out loud” mechanism is a novel way to achieve clear communication in the workplace.

Clear Communication in the Workplace: Think Out Loud

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Here's what you'll find in our full Turn the Ship Around summary:

  • How a captain turned the U.S. Navy’s worst-performing nuclear submarine crew into one of the best
  • The principles for developing leaders at all levels to create a passionate, high-performing workforce
  • Why the "leader-leader" model works better than the "leader-follower" model

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She has always appreciated nonfiction, especially about history, politics, and ideas. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. As a former intelligence analyst and a teacher of critical thinking skills, Elizabeth enjoys analyzing arguments on all sides of an issue. Her nonfiction preferences include theology, science, and philosophy. She studies the intersection of these three in pursuit of the highest truths. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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