A Simple Fix for Miscommunication Part 2: Putting It Into Practice

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on miscommunication in the workplace, and how so much of it is caused by the fact that people routinely fail to realize how little they are actually communicating. We think we've said a lot more than we actually have. As a result, our colleagues are left guessing as to what we meant, or what we want from them. All too often, they guess wrong.

Judging by the popularity of the post, Fast Company readers can relate. You know how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end of communication that is confusing or vague. But most of us have no idea that we are guilty of the same crime. It's easy to see why--after all, we know what we mean. Unless we are confronted directly about how poorly we are communicating (something people are generally loathe to do, for a number of reasons), how are we to know if we've said enough?

I received a number of emails asking how to put the insight gained from the last post into practice on a daily basis. Here are three strategies you can use to make sure that you are saying everything that needs to be said.

1) Take a few moments before communicating to identify the key points you need to get across. Write them down if you think you might forget something when you are actually conversing (this is very common). If you think any of your key points "go without saying," you are probably wrong.

2) Create a process for assessing understanding. Everyone on your team needs to participate -- don't single anyone out. When you communicate something to a team member, end the encounter by asking them to summarize in their own words what they heard.

For this to work well without anyone feeling patronized, you need to make it clear that this is not a test--your concern is that you didn't communicate effectively, not that they weren't paying attention. Also, it has to work both ways. When your team member brings something to your attention, you should summarize what you heard as well.

Without direct feedback, there is no way to figure out if the message was fully received. But people are reluctant to provide this feedback if there is no explicit process in place. They worry about looking foolish, or irritating the communicator (particularly when the communicator is the boss.)

Invite questions should they arise.

Sometimes, you don't realize that you didn't understand what a colleague asked you to do until you actually try to do it. At this point, it can be embarrassing to go back and admit "I don't get it." Take the embarrassment out of it by reminding your team members that you are always happy to answer any questions that may come up later. When you are asked for clarification, provide it with enthusiasm.

I know that all of this seems like a lot of work, and it is. But the extra time and effort you put in to improving your team's ability to communicate will be well worth it. You'll spend far less time fixing mistakes and putting out fires. Your team will be more motivated and productive. And you'll have confidence that everyone is finally, and permanently, on the same page.

Heidi's new book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals is available wherever books are sold. Follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson

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3 Comments

  • Richard Wallace

    Nice article, but you promised us three strategies and I see only two. Perhaps your third strategy should be: Review your communication before sending to ensure you've covered the topic.

    Richard Wallace

  • Lisa Sperow

    Strategy #1 is one of my favorites --- I ALWAYS do this! It's one thing to have it all in your head before yo go into the conversation; it's another thing entirely when you insert another person with his own comments and reactions into that conversation! Having it written down in front of me always gives me a checklist of the points that need to be communicated before the meeting is ended.

    Lisa Sperow