Communication is Key

The world thrives on communication. Think about it: Almost nothing gets done without some sort of communication happening first.

And how you communicate can make a world of difference.

It doesn’t matter how well you plan or sort out problems. If you can’t properly communicate what needs to be done, or the solutions to the problems, you’re not going to get the results you want.

And this means communication is your key to succeeding in the dirt world.

How the Rabbit Effect applies to the dirt world.

For Schroeder, the Rabbit Effect is a concept that has a profound impact on communication. Popularized by a book of the same name by Kelli Harding, the concept is based on a 1970s study on rabbits that was designed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Nerem.

Nerem wanted to look at the connection between a high-fat diet and heart health. To do this, he gave all the rabbits in his study the same high-fat diet, and at the end of the study he measured the rabbits’ heart health.

Surprisingly, there was one group of rabbits who showed significantly less negative effects from the unhealthy diet. Puzzled, the researchers did some digging, and discovered that this healthier group of rabbits was being cared for by a young post-doctoral student who treated them lovingly and kindly. So the researchers repeated the study, with the same student caring for a different group of rabbits. The outcome was the same.

This surprising result was dubbed the Rabbit Effect, and it demonstrates the impact care and kindness can have on both animals and people. “Now, in construction, we don’t talk about love a lot, right?” Schroeder said. “But we’re humans, and there’s no reason we can’t talk about it. We have to love our people. And if you show a sincere amount of care for your crew, they will perform better, they will perform higher, and their health will improve. It’s the Rabbit Effect in action.”

It all comes down to how we treat people. “We have an amazing opportunity to connect with the people in our crews, and make a difference in their lives,” he continued. “You can do this by making positivity one of the mainstays of your communication on every project you’re on.”


Build the right culture.

The second way to communicate effectively with your people is to build the right culture. You’ll get the best production when you create a culture where everyone’s beliefs and actions are so fun, people just want to perform when you connect with them.

What does this culture look like in action? Schroeder illustrated with a story about his love for Southwest Airlines. He was considering switching over to American Airlines, because Southwest didn’t have many direct flights. But he didn’t make the switch, and this is why:

“I had some of my kids with me on a flight to Jacksonville, Florida,” Schroeder said. “And we’re waiting in line when the pilot comes out and looks at my little guy. And he says to him, 'Hey, little man, want to come and help me prep the plane?' He takes my son and my daughter to the cockpit while I make my way to a seat. And over the loudspeaker, I hear my daughter’s voice, saying, ‘Welcome to Southwest Airlines. It’s a great day to fly.’ My kids are having a blast. And from that point on, I knew this one thing. I will never not fly Southwest Airlines. Because they’re my people.”

Know your people’s learning styles.

It’s also important to understand that individuals have different learning styles, and you need to know the learning styles of the people in your crew. “The three most common learning styles are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic,” Schroeder said. “And since people learn differently, their learning styles affect how you should communicate with them.”

People with an auditory style of learning learn primarily through listening. For them, words are important. The visual learner, on the other hand, learns best when they can see what they’re learning. And those who are kinesthetic learners learn more easily through touch.

In Schroeder’s superintendent boot camps, one of the tasks is to have teams of three people reassemble a small LEGO set. In each team, one person is the observer who explains to the other team members how the pieces should be put together.

“No one ever gets this right,” Schroeder pointed out. “And it’s because, without understanding the different learning styles, it’s hard to tell people how to put those blocks together in the right way. We don’t know how to talk to each other. We don’t understand each other. And this shows up at work. So if we want to communicate in a way people will get, we have to hit them where they learn.”

Seven is the magic number.

Schroeder’s final point? Seven is the magic number when it comes to communicating.

“You can’t just tell someone something, and expect them to just naturally get it the first time,” he explained. “You might have to tell them seven times before they’ll get it. Because you have to communicate for understanding. And this means we have to get the information to people as many times as they need, in order to understand it.”


As a foreman, when it comes to communication it doesn’t matter what you say. It only matters that your crew understands what you’re saying. The following keys will help you to do this successfully:

  • Employ the Rabbit Effect. People will understand you better if you communicate with care and positivity.
  • Create the right culture for communicating. You want to have a culture on the job site where people have fun and want to connect with each other.
  • Know your people’s learning styles. When you know how someone learns, you’ll know better how to best communicate with them so they understand.
  • Tell them seven times. Keep in mind that you might have to tell someone something seven times before they understand. Don’t get frustrated if they’re not clear on it right from the start.

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