Since this issue touches on the oilfield, as well as all types of drilling, and I have spent a good part of my career in the “patch,” I thought I’d share something I have learned in the drilling business that applies to all. Effective communication on a customer’s level is critical.

For a good part of my life, I’ve been a borehole fisherman. It’s interesting and challenging work, and has had made a good living as well. When a rig loses something in the hole or sticks the pipe, they usually have procedures in place to deal with it. After trying two or three different methods, they know they have to call a fisherman.

If I get the call, I first recognize whether it is a known customer or somebody I’ve never met. For a regular customer, one where the company man knew — and trusted — me, he would say, “Howdy. There’s the well. Wake me up when you have the fish on the bank.” I love those jobs.

For a new customer, we have to build a level of trust to have a successful outcome. Usually, the company man is nervous because his multimillion-dollar project stalled and he is burning nonproductive time and money. His front office is probably running on him like a rented mule.

This is where good communication comes in. To establish trust, and make sure we are all singing off the same page, requires good communication. After asking a few questions, I listen very carefully to what the company man has to say. The first thing is to find out if he knows what he’s talking about. Most do, but every once in a while I run into a guy who got the job because his brother-in-law runs the company. I pay close attention to his vocabulary. There are over 400,000 words in the English language, but nobody uses them all. I try to focus on his vocabulary and vernacular, and try to match my words to his.

This is the key: If you use a large vocabulary and the person you talk with doesn’t, he may think you are talking down to him. Not good. Speak at his level. If you cuss a lot and use common roughneck language, some company men are going to think you don’t know the job. Friction like that often makes the job go downhill fast.

The same applies when I go on the rig floor to start a fishing job. These guys don’t speak the same language as the company man. They are usually a lot more graphic, curse a lot, and use more basic terms and euphemisms. Adjust your vocabulary to match! If you use the same vocabulary as you did with the company man, they are apt to think you are talking down to them. I have spent enough time on the rig floor to speak that language fluently. Although it might cause distress among the ladies in the Amen Pew of the church I occasionally go to, the hands know exactly what I’m talking about.

The same goes for the rig pusher. He’s usually pretty sharp, and has worked his way up the ladder though skills and intelligence. He is also very concerned about his rig, since it is his responsibility and he probably knows it capabilities better the engineer who designed it. For instance, on a stuck pipe job, I need him to set the maximum I can pull on the fish. I usually don’t pull that much because experience has taught me that I am liable to pull the pipe into, compounding the problem, or other reasons, but I always ask. The same for jarring. Jarring is an effective way to recover stuck pipe, but it is hard on equipment. If we are going to do some serious jarring, I usually ask the pusher about his ton-mile book. This is a measure of the wear on the drill line. If he is nearly due for a cut-and-slip, I usually recommend that he do it before we start jarring. It is safer for all involved. Occasionally, I get a pusher who doesn’t give a hoot what I pull or how long I jar. Then it is up to me to use common sense — and experience — to make the job go smoothly.

As you can see, we all speak the same English, but at the same time, we all speak different languages. It’s a paradox, and coping with it is a good skill to cultivate. The same applies to the house well industry. You will probably only deal with the homeowner, but you need to listen to him and communicate on his level. This is not always possible, but it helps. Sometimes the customer has been on the Internet and learned a few terms, even if he doesn’t understand them. He tries to sound like he knows it all. A perfect example in my area: The customer asks if I can drill him an artesian well. His understanding of the term and reality were different. He wants a flowing well, but basic geology teaches that if the water rises above the aquifer, even one inch, it is artesian. He doesn’t understand this. Careful communication is very important here.

My basic point here is to communicate on the level that your customer uses. We have a particular skill set, and use a different vocabulary than people outside our professions do. To effective communicate, and have a harmonious outcome, we need to communicate.

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