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Communication means (according to my desktop dictionary) to transmit a message. Yes, there is a bit more elaboration but nothing that implies the checking for the understanding of said message.
Not good enough, I say. There are plenty of examples where transmitting a message suffices but even when a memo or message is posted in the workplace there is always someone that misinterprets or questions the message.
Posted message: ” The office will be closing Wednesday at 1:00 PM for the holiday.”
Question posted: “Does that mean for everyone?”
See what I mean, even the most direct message leaves a gap. So how can we expect the numerous conversations that take place daily to be interpreted as the sender intended? No easy task.
Let’s take a look at just a couple of things you can incorporate into your conversations to decrease the likelihood of misunderstandings.
1. Allow time for your message to be processed–avoid “bump and blurt” communications. You know the scenario where you run into your boss or coworker in the hallway and blab your message as quickly as possible while still moving in the opposite direction. Really? You expect to be heard?
2. Ask for interpretation. This is the most difficult aspect of the exchange. The one question to never ask is…“do you understand?” Why? Because 99.9 percent of the time the answer is yes–when the reality is no. You can try the active or passive approach depending upon the situation and with whom you are speaking. Here are some approaches:
- This casual approach takes on the burden of responsibility: “Wait…what did I just say?” Even though you know perfectly well what you said, this approach generally gets others to repeat at least of portion of what you said. And no, if you are making a request that requires action there is no guarantee it will be carried out as you expect.
- A somewhat more direct approach allows for both processing and questioning, particularly useful after giving a long directive. “I’ve just given you a lot of detailed information.” Let’s review the first part again (you do) then you ask, “what questions do you have about this section?” This implies that there will be questions. Ask the question and then, you know…shut up. Most people don’t like to admit they are unclear about something so give them time to answer.
- Another direct approach is simply to say, “I’m curious to know if we are on the same page, tell me how you heard what I requested? Often the intent is to get other people thinking the same way you do, forgetting that rarely do people think the same way you do!
- Sometimes we fail to give enough information because we fail to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. If you request a project to be handled be sure to ask something like this…“what information have I failed to give you in order for this project to get completed on time?” (Make sure this is an open-ended question.)
Just in asking the question you might realize that you have not, in fact, given a time frame. I’ve frequently asked audience members what time frame they put around this request…“as soon as you can get to it.” You’ll be shocked to know I heard everything from 15 minutes to a week!
Admins frequently are confused about prioritization–jumping on a task that didn’t need to be done first while ignoring more urgent projects. Both parties need to ask better questions.
These are just a few ways to check for understanding. Tell me what has worked for you by leaving a comment below.
You can find more information on this topic in my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Get it at Amazon.com today.
A common complaint from managers revolves around unmet expectations from direct reports and their teams. Similarly, workers complain that expectations are not clear and leave too much room for misunderstandings and assumptions.
Here is a look at some root problems and solutions:
Problem: Failure to clarify the desired results assuming the outcome is understood.
Management is often working within a larger framework with information that has not been made available to their direct reports. Think of this information as the missing pieces that complete the puzzle picture. The manager’s expected result is to reproduce the picture with all the parts as he sees it. Misunderstandings arise when the picture in the manager’s head does not match the picture they have painted for their direct reports.
1. Clarify the expectations. Paint a picture in as many ways as possible-visually, verbally and vocally. Give a comparison to a known entity, if possible. “It should look like X with this adjustment.”
2. Clearly state the required details-the non-negotiable conditions.
3. Confirm interpretation and actions. Ask what was heard. Ask what that means. Ask what actions will be taken. Allow creativity and leeway to do the job as long as the end result is the same.
Problem: Systems and tools don’t function as needed and departments don’t work together.
Solution: Read more
What is it about communication in the workplace that invites challenge instead of cooperation? Is it ego, fear, ignorance, culture or human nature? I can hear you checking off all of those factors and maybe adding a few of your own. But the question remains… what can you do about decreasing misunderstandings at work?
Short of listing all the potential dreaded conversation scenarios and a list of possible come-backs, I’d like to invite you to explore another approach: An “Invitation to Conversation.”
The “Invitation to Conversation” is both a formula and a mindset. The approach is to look at a conversation as an invitation to join in and share an experience. If I invite you to an event, a party or out on a date you might picture a ceremony, festivities or a romantic evening. You also have the option to accept or decline my invitation. Either way, I expect a response.
If you apply this to business and you decline my invitation you have agreed to disagree. If you accept, you agree to engage in a conversation. Of course, if I don’t hear back that sets off another round of miscommunications. Unfortunately, this is all too common both in business and life.
The invitation also comes with the notion that there will be an exchange of some kind. If I invite you to a birthday party and upon your arrival I hand you a bowl, an apron, and cake-mix you may get a slice of cake in the end, but I suspect that making the birthday cake was not what you had in mind. My thoughts did not translate into your thoughts.
And that is the objective for many workplace conversations-to get me thinking the same way that you do. When you fail to confirm that your message has been interpreted the way you intended that’s the start of another communication miscue. You must take the time to ensure you have conveyed your thoughts in the best way possible and that I have interpreted them the way you intended.
The formula for the “invitation” looks like this:
Intention: What outcome do you want as a result of your message? Be honest here–otherwise everything is built on falsehood.
Information: This is your message. The actual words you speak and the way you convey them.
Interpretation: How your listener deciphers the message. It might not be the way you intended. Check first.
Interaction: This is the key component-engaging to confirm the interpretation. Did they understand as I intended?
Integration: The intended result, change, or behavior is understood, implemented and assimilated.
And this process needs to be in-time, otherwise it’s like receiving the invitation after the event. What’s the point? Use the invitation to change the way you think about engaging with others-think guest not competitor. And use the formula as a simple way to keep on track and ensure that you have been heard correctly.
This technique plus dozens more can be found in my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Pick up a copy today.
Probably everyone has experienced a misunderstanding, misinterpretation or a miscommunication at work. It seems that communication breakdowns are so common they are accepted as business as usual. Each time I ask someone if they have ever been misunderstood at work the answer is always yes– demonstrated with a shy smile, a nodding head and maybe rolling eyes. I suspect some guilt in those answers.
When I ask what the cost of such a misunderstanding might be the immediate response seems to trigger a train-of-thought ending in ‘aha’ moment. Suddenly, the real costs associated with even a simple miscommunication begin to appear like a magicians unending scarf trick. Loss of a customer today due to a misunderstanding could mean lost revenue in the future. Loss of production time now might result in a missed opportunity later. Miscommunication with a co-worker might result in bad feelings, poor morale, less productivity or costly mistakes. In some professions the result of a misunderstanding can result in death.
Here’s how you can decrease misunderstandings and communicate more effectively:
1. Take responsibility for your communication. Whether or not you have initiated a conversation does not let you off the hook for confirming what was said and intended. Create a mind-set that releases you from being right so you have the opportunity to learn.
I recently encountered a sales clerk who refused to shift her thinking about a situation even when her supervisor explained why a garment I was returning had a different number than the receipt. As far as the clerk was concerned, I did not have a receipt and she proceeded to handle the transaction as such. This resulted in more issues, more time lost and a second round of a managers intervention. Not to mention my growing aggravation.
To the manager’s credit she did an excellent job of explaining what probably happened and after overriding a computer default she expected the return to be handled smoothly. Unfortunately, she failed to confirm the clerk’s interpretation of her message assuming she understood.
Responsibility means verifying that your message was interpreted as you intended.
2. Match your listener’s communication style. If you are a fast talker but your listener is slower paced they may miss what you are saying as they struggle to process your message. If your style is less direct and you prefer to use a lot of words when communicating you may find that someone with a direct style may lose interest, become distracted and misunderstand your message.
Observe your listener and adjust your style accordingly. If you are the receiver, listen from the speaker’s point-of-view and confirm what you’ve heard. Context is as important as content. Your frame of reference can easily distort a positive intention if it doesn’t match the speaker’s point of reference.
3. Handle a misunderstanding immediately. If something has gone wrong in the communication process open up the lines of communication as soon as possible. Often the result of a misinterpretation doesn’t come to the forefront until a further action has taken place. Rather than place blame, seek to rectify the situation and move forward.
The cost of misunderstandings is too big to ignore. Be a part of the solution by taking responsibility, shifting your style and handling misunderstandings quickly.
If you’re serious about improving your communication skills but don’t want to go back to school just pick up a copy of my book, Misunderstood! The Fast Guide to Communicating at Work–What to Say, How to Say It and When to Shut Up. Do it now!
Don’t forget to pick up your FREE 6-part audio on the Power of Effective Communication.
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I’ve seen tipsy job candidates as well as drunk-as-a-lord employees. Tears in the workplace—far too many to count. Witnessing even one employee’s full-out, red-faced, nose-running tantrum that scared the living daylights out of customers is more than enough. Lying—seems to go with the territory. Back-stabbing behavior followed by incredulous “who-me” denials from that one off-kilter worker–not uncommon.
It’s important to remember that fear is the grand motivator and a universal human behavior. This belief has saved my sanity.
2. Customers – see above.
The old saying “buyers are liars” comes to mind. I’ve listened to customers denying ever signing a contract even when presented with the document not only signed but initialed in three places. Refusing to accept delivery. Bounced checks. Stealing. All routine.
I’ve seen enough to jade me for life unless I put it all into perspective. Grateful, appreciative, understanding, referral-giving customers outweighed the wacky ones by far. I discovered that taping a glowing note or two from a good client where I could frequently see was helpful.
3. You’re responsible for the whole shebang.
Just own it. I’ve dealt with drug addicts parked at the back door and snakes slithering across the front entrance. The remnants of sodden ceiling panels spattered on furniture, imported rugs and public walkways—when they could no longer hold their weight—simply meant having the local 24-hour cleaning service on speed-dial. Until the AC unit got fixed (correctly) this was a weekly event.
Electrical problems, smoke-filled showrooms and 100-degree offices became as trivial as jammed copiers and dead phone service.
I’ve dragged myself out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to answer alarm calls a dozen times only to discover—well, nothing much. Chandeliers crashing to the floor from their tether in the stockroom will surely set off a motion detector but are really nothing to become alarmed about, especially after the second or third time.
I learned that you’ll be on a first-name basis with the police, fire and E.M.T. departments so it’s best to cultivate a friendly smile.
4. Appreciation and creative latitude produces the best work.
I’ve witness pure genius and remarkable solutions produced when the freedom to innovate is present.
5. You leave a little mark on everyone.
Remember who you are and where you are. You’ll never know what indelible impression you’ll leave on someone. A careless remark uttered under stress may be regrettable. A few words of encouragement and understanding marks you as human. A note of gratitude from a co-worker—priceless.