“Take that skeevy dust bunny and throw it on the devil strip.” (For translation see www.wordnik.com)
Ever felt like you have no idea what the heck your coworker in the next office (or spouse, or friend) is talking about? You hear what she’s saying, and she’s speaking English, but geez…she makes no sense!
Welcome to the mystifying world of interpersonal communication.
We all communicate in different ways, use our common language differently, read others differently, and have different ways of judging whether we’ve been understood. The opportunities for misunderstandings and miscommunications in the workplace are endless.
Especially if you’re in a leadership position, it’s incumbent on you to do everything possible to ensure effective communication happens. These four rules will help you to set the right communication tone, no matter the situation:
Just because you know what you’re saying doesn’t mean anyone else does. Assuming others understand you is dangerous. You also can’t assume you always got the same message a speaker intended to send.
Always give the benefit of the doubt:
One of the quickest routes to a toxic environment is for people to attribute motives to each other erroneously. Terse emails and throwaway remarks are responsible for countless conflicts because people jump to negative conclusions rather than believing the other person is well intentioned, but not necessarily always well spoken. You have the opportunity to urge people to check their responses until they’ve clarified what someone else meant.
Candor clears clogged communication lines. People who say what they think, speak directly to difficult issues, and aren’t afraid to disagree keep communication lines open and keep issues from festering. If you expect and model communication that includes respectful candor, you will set the right tone in your relationships.
Put a premium on clarification:
A simple recap at the end of every conversation will go a long way to minimizing misunderstandings. Take a few seconds to summarize the key discussion points and takeaways; ask others for confirmation or disagreements, and prod those hesitant listeners to speak up about what they heard.
If you’re not sure you can remember all four, then focus on the last one and get it right. It will save you a world of missteps.
Dr. Fish is a consulting psychologist whose writing and work focus exclusively on helping individuals and teams lead more effectively. Her firm, Fish Executive Leadership Group, LLC, counts among its clients everything from Fortune 50 corporations to small, privately-held professional service firms.
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