"I'm sure he understood what I meant."
"I'm sure it was obvious."
"It goes without saying ... "
The most common source of miscommunication in any workplace is a very simple one: People routinely fail to realize how little they are actually communicating. In other words, we think we've said a lot more than we actually have.
Psychologists call this the signal amplification bias (because we can't resist slapping esoteric names on things—calling it the "I'm Sure It Was Obvious" Effect would be much more to the point.)
Studies show that the vast majority of us tend to believe that our behavior is much more expressive than it actually is, and this occurs across a wide variety of situations.
For instance, we often think people know when we're lying—that our discomfort with deception is obvious—when they rarely have any idea. We also assume that others understand our goals and what we're trying to accomplish, when in fact they don't have the first clue. Most of what we say and do every day is open to multiple interpretations, and when other people try to figure out what we really mean, they are apt to guess wrong.
We are particularly likely to be "sure it was obvious" with people we know well or who we've worked with for a long time—we assume our thoughts and behaviors are transparent, when they are far from it. So, ironically, the risk of miscommunication is greater with a close colleague than a brand-new coworker.
When we assume that other people know what we're thinking, and what we are expecting of them, we do them a real disservice. Assuming that we've been clear about what we wanted, we blame them when things don't go as planned.
The next time you catch yourself thinking "I didn't expressly say that to Bob, but it should be obvious ... " STOP. Nothing is ever obvious unless you made it obvious by spelling it out.
Remove the phrase "It goes without saying" from your mental lexicon, because it is total rubbish. If something is important, then it goes WITH saying. Make a point of saying exactly what you mean, and asking for exactly what you want, and you will be pleasantly surprised by often you get it.
[Image: Flickr user Wesley Fryer]