Ralph's Blog
January 2024

Failure to Communicate

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” – The Captain (from the film, Cool Hand Luke – 1967)

For me and my young friends in the late 1960’s, Paul Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke was our first embrace of an anti-hero. The quotation above – listed at number 11 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 most memorable movie lines – was one we so wanted to hear from the authority figures in our lives in the same way it was uttered in the movie. Pretty typical for defiant young Americans in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Having now spent much more of my life as something of an authority figure myself, what I’ve realized is the devastating effect of failure in communication and the critical importance of achieving success in communication. It’s hardly an overstatement that nothing sets you up more for success in your endeavors than success in communication. Twenty years ago, at a point later in my 18-year run as the CEO of a manufacturing company, I came across the book Crucial Conversations. While hardly revelatory point-by-point, the collection of all that wisdom in such an accessible and practical volume did much to improve my success in communication. It’s been a companion to me in every working environment I have been a part of since.

At the Agathe Center for Entrepreneurship, we’re getting ready to read through Crucial Conversations again. The challenges to success in communication strike us as greater than ever. Regardless of the position of power or authority from which one is communicating, “a failure to communicate” is never an acceptable outcome. We never want to settle for anything less than being heard and understood.

Though life may imitate art, neither the Captain, nor Luke is the person to emulate. The Captain needs a better way of speaking and Luke needs a different frame and a better way of listening. Everyone everywhere needs to engage in better dialogue. We’re encouraging ourselves to be better. Join us.


From Building to Blessing is a resource created in conjunction with the Agathe Center for Entrepreneurship. Learn more →

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