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Why Self-Discovery is a Frictionless Route to Effective Communication

Sanay Mathura is Communicating with FINESSE!
Sanya Mathura believes a big aspect of effective communication is allowing others to identify with the solution.

“It’s varnish and the oil is causing it! The oil isn’t any good! We’re going to switch brands!” bellowed the Plant Manager of an Ammonia production plant. This plant was part of a larger international group and at this location, there were 4 large plants responsible for producing close to 1.8M tonnes per year. Given the price point of ammonia, every day that the equipment was not producing product, the plant would be accumulating losses of approximately US$6M non inclusive of the additional costs involved in the maintenance work. No wonder the Plant manager was furious!

Effective communication is critical, especially when there’s a minimum age gap of 10 years and you’re the only female in the room! In such tense situations, I’ve found it best to guide the customer along the path toward self-discovery rather than simply stating the solution to the problem. This way, the customer gains a better understanding of the situation and can apply these techniques in other challenging aspects they may face in the future. Therein, began my line of questions to provoke thought in the direction of the solution.

“Have you ever gone to the doctor for a blood test?” I asked. I got a puzzled look from the Plant Manager but eventually a ‘yes’ was heard. I continued my questions, “If the report said that your cholesterol levels were high, did you do a blood transfusion and remove all the blood containing the high levels of cholesterol?” He began to see some of the light and responded, “No, I took another look at my diet and lifestyle and made some adjustments”. “So, why don’t you apply that to your critical machines at the plant?” I asked. That’s when the lightbulb finally switched on and the room was illuminated with the concept that the oil may not be the issue. They were now ready to listen and became intrigued.

I continued on to inform them that oil is sacrificial in nature. Its additives will be depleted in time and due to the environment in which it was placed, the rate of depletion can vary. In this case, if we swapped out the oil, the conditions which existed would not have changed. Hence, the new oil would still experience these conditions and the critical pieces of equipment would undoubtedly be forced to shut down again resulting in more losses. If the system wasn’t cleaned and new oil was placed in a dirty system, then the deposits which previously existed would act as accelerants and increase the rate of degradation.

In these cases, it is absolutely essential to identify the type of deposit which has formed. This gives us a clue into the condition faced by the oil in the system. Next, we need to determine how the deposit was formed, what factors were present (both physical, human and systemic), and finally, how do we prevent it from happening in the future. While finding the actual root cause may take some resources of time and effort, it will be worth it especially if the plant doesn’t have another unplanned shutdown.

Typically, we find ourselves in situations where the stakes are high, there’s a lot of pressure for the “right decision” to be made and there isn’t much time to make that decision. During these times, we should remember that the greatest of ideas can get drowned out if not communicated effectively and with finesse. The ideas which surface and get executed are those which resonate with the team and all members can fully understand the impact the idea can bring to their situation. The next time you find yourself in such a situation, think about ways to allow others to identify with the solution and of course, communicate with finesse.



Sanya Mathura is the Founder of Strategic Reliability Solutions Ltd based in Trinidad and operates in the capacity of Managing Director and Senior Consultant. She works with global affiliates in the areas of Reliability and Asset Management to bring these specialty niches to her clients. She holds her BSc in Electrical and Computer Engineering, MSc in Engineering Asset Management and is an ICML certified MLE (Machinery Lubrication Engineer) – the first female in the Caribbean. Sanya was also the first female in the world to achieve the ICML Varnish badges (VIM & VPR).

She is the author and co-author of three books; Lubrication Degradation Mechanisms, A Complete Guide, Lubrication Degradation – Getting into the Root Causes and Machinery Lubrication Technician (MLT) I & II Certification Exam Guide. When not writing or managing the business, you can find her supporting projects to advocate for women in STEM.



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