Stepping out of my comfort zone made me learn a valuable lesson.

Recently, I took a week of sailing lessons off the coast of Maine with three other women and two instructors.  I am not an experienced sailor, hence the need for lessons.

Being a novice at the whole sailing thing, I was quite nervous about a number of things before the trip started:

  1. Sailing is foreign to me and I have neither intuition nor internal compass to guide me.
  2. I was worried about how to sail in a storm, in fog, with people I have never met – what if someone was so extraverted that an introvert like myself would not get as much “ear time” as I needed from the instructors.

This brings me to talk about communication.


Communication may be the most important skill to have while sailing. You may be thinking:

  • Knowing the direction of the wind and current
  • Charting out a course (navigation)
  • Trimming the sails
  • How to dock the boat

Yes, these are important, but if you lack good communication amongst the crew and captain you may lose your direction or, worse yet, get into a situation where safety is an issue.


One day we had several hours of sailing in the fog. And I mean a deep fog. The first thing we did before heading out was to have a meeting. Somewhat like football players do before a play – they huddle and listen the quarterback discuss the play. Another analogy is the SRCUM process frequently used in software development.

We had to assign responsibilities to each crew member: someone to chart the course, someone to look for buoys that tell you where you are on your course, someone to look for other boats, whales, seals or lobster pots (Maine is known for great lobster) and someone to tell the helmsman where to steer the boat.

In addition, you have to trim the sails. This may mean that someone’s role changes. It could be the person charting the course has to pull in or pull out the jib sheet. Sailing with a crew is almost like a dance – everyone knows where they need to be and each moves quickly to an empty position.

And yes, just like in dancing, every once in a while you may step on someone’s foot.


As we started on the sail in the fog, the individual at the bow (front of the boat) had to let the captain know what was ahead of them since the fog prevented the captain from seeing. The person at the bow had to speak loudly to the captain such that he or she could hear.

The key was that the person speaking had to face the captain in order for their voice to be heard. Being heard, speaking clearly and receiving feedback from the captain that you were heard are all critical elements to communication. Imagine what would happen if anyone of these actions did not happen.


The same goes for the business world.

In summary, be it on a sailboat or in a business office, it is important to communicate everyone’s role or position and that there will be times when someone has to help someone else or move to another position. Clarity and recognition in communication are critical. Think about how you communicate with your teammates at work. How clear are you when you speak and how certain are you that you are heard or that you have heard them?

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” – Woodrow Wilson

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