I often see articles, books, and training series on how to effectively communicate. Helping my clients develop their skills in effective communication is one of my specialties so my brain is trained to notice this kind of information wherever and whenever it pops up. Most of this information is very instructional (insert bored-out-of-their-minds-students emoji…AKA: classroom boredom!). When I come across a real-life story, it becomes a great illustration of how communication can misfire, hence the main story behind this article.
My friend Mike purchased a wood engraving laser. He was toying around with making some coasters he could sell in his friend Bill’s shop. He wanted to use a mountain skiing theme so he did a sample showing a very simple ski lift motif. Mike showed his friend Bill the sample and asked “What do you think?” Bill said “Looks good, but finish it.” So Mike went back to his shop to “finish it.”
Mike brought back the original and the finished coaster to show to Bill. As soon as Bill saw the two coasters side by side he burst out in laughter. When Bill told Mike to “finish it” he had meant to finish etching the image onto the coaster, something more than a couple of lines and two empty ski lift chairs. Bill was thinking Mike would add in some landscape, maybe an actual skier or two.
When Mike heard Bill say “finish it”, Mike assumed Bill meant “put a coat of wood stain finish on it.”
Unique filters. Every one of us comes into a conversation with our own unique mindset. Through our young, formative years, all the way up to where we are right now, our brains have been absorbing information and creating filters to help us process information most efficiently. No mater how similar we are, or how well we think we know someone, we all bring our unique perspectives to each situation and we interpret information in slightly, or dramatically, different ways.
Assumptions. As a leader, you are probably responsible for delivering a lot of communication: in person, over the phone, in writing, and nowadays, via video conferencing. We often ASSUME that if we are very clear in what we communicate, those on the receiving end will understand. So we might spend a little extra time reviewing what we are about to communicate, check to make sure we are hitting all the important points, and then we put it out there. Done. But wait, not so fast!
As the Sender, you must assume that you will be misunderstood by at least some of those on the receiving end of your communication. And, to make things even more complicated, you must also assume that YOU will at times misunderstand the receiver’s reaction to your message. OK, so what does this all mean?
Check for understanding. As the Sender, it is your responsibility to pay attention to the Receivers of your communication. It is your responsibility to check for understanding. It is fine to ask if they have any questions, but never assume a lack of questions means the Receivers fully understand your message. Take the extra step by asking the Receiver to paraphrase back to you what you just communicated. Ask the Receiver to put it into their own words. This is an excellent method to check for their understanding.
Paraphrase again. Once you have heard the Receiver’s version of what they heard, a best practice is to paraphrase their version back to them and ask for their confirmation that this is correct. This demonstrates your commitment to helping them understand, that you care about them, and you are making an active effort to set them up for success.
Effective communication. Miscommunication happens all the time, but when you keep these key points in mind, you greatly improve your chances of understanding, and being understood.
- Is two-way
- Involves active listening
- Reflects the accountability of the Sender AND the Receiver
- Utilizes feedback
- Is free of stress
- Is clear
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