If you do a search of books about communication on Amazon, you’ll have 281,587 options available to you.
With all of the noise on the subject, it’s no wonder that people get confused, misguided, and paralyzed with information overload. It’s a lot to wade and sift through.
Communication is central to everything we do personally and professionally. When things break down and there is a misunderstanding or miscommunication, we’re quick to go back to the words that were said. We assure ourselves that we were clear, that we said what we meant and that we meant what we said. We make sure that we checked back for clarity, that our tone was neutral or warm, that our volume was respectful, and that we avoided generalizations or blaming statements.
You know. You’ve been there.
So often, when I am chasing the tail with people and examining what went awry in their personal or professional communication, we realize that it wasn’t at all about what they said but what they didn’t say.
Communicate your intent and what you want people to think.
I was talking to a client last week who’s been working with his wife to improve their marriage. They’d just returned from a fantastic family weekend and he lit up when telling me about it. They did things as a family with the kids, he got some yardwork done, and they’d been able to sneak away one night for a date night.
In telling me about it, he said “I hope she knows that it meant the world to me and that I’m really happy. I don’t want her to think that I am just going to leave that behind now that I am at work.”
I asked if he told her that and he said “Of course! I told her what a great time I had and that I hoped she was feeling better, too.”
I clarified by asking “No, did you tell her the part about your intent to not go back to the status quo, that you weren’t going to check out again now that you have returned to work?”
Silence… and then, “Well, no, that didn’t really occur to me.”
A few weeks ago, I was consulting with Stephanie**, a new project manager. Eager to start off on the right foot with a new team member, Michael**, Stephanie told me she’d given Michael a list of places to get lunch in the area. She’d also included a rundown of the best places to find cheap parking and a cheat sheet for their computer system.
“God! I hope he doesn’t think I am just some soft-hearted kiss ass or something. I want to be taken seriously by him. I probably have to be aware of how I am perceived by men I supervise, don’t I? Oh no! What if he thought I was flirting???”
My response to Stephanie, too, was “Did you tell him? Did you tell Michael what you wanted him to think about the welcome packet you threw together?”
Don’t waste time worrying about what people think. Tell them what you want them to know.
In both the personal and professional arena, my answer was the same: don’t worry or wonder what people think. Tell them what you want them to know. If you’re worried about how an action on your part might be interpreted or perceived, communicate your intent and tell them what you want them to think.
Instead of worrying that his wife might think he was going back to how things used to be, I encouraged my client to say something, to cement for his wife what reconnecting felt like and meant to him. The same was true for Stephanie, even though she was managing a work place issue.
She was worried that her actions might be misconstrued but all she had to say was “I remember what starting a new job feels like. You’re going to feel like a fish out of water for a little bit but I put this together for you so your first week might be easier. Feel free to ask the team here anything. We all had our first days at some point.”
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Communication is not one size fits all.
If communication was simple and cut and dried, we wouldn’t need so many books on the subject. Communication is a tricky beast because of all of the characters involved.
In the professional world:
- Some people need to be told the big picture and they are good to go.
- Some employees need the details.
- Some people need to hear praise before being given constructive feedback.
- Some just want you to get the point of what they can improve on.
- Some people need eye contact. Some people don’t.
- Some communicate better in the written word while others do so better face to face.
- Some crave accountability while others despise being micro-managed.
For our interpersonal relationships, it’s really no different. We all need and want different things from the communication we share with our partners, family, and friends. We have different values and as a result, place importance on different things.
Where I see people trip up the most personally and professionally is when they communicate based on their own style and preferences, rather than on what the person they’re talking to need to hear in order to connect to the message.
Effective communication is so much more about knowing and understanding who you’re talking to than it is about your own self-awareness.
When communicating with someone either personally or professionally and you start to trip up on misunderstandings, take a minute to pause and see where the disconnect happened. Of course it’s worth double-checking and reviewing what you said but it’s usually more important to check in on the other person.
- What did they hear?
- How did they interpret what you said regardless of the words you chose?
- What motivates them?
- What’s important to them?
When you use what you know about a person and alter your message accordingly, you create a deeper understanding and connection.
Personally, this translates into better intimacy. We feel closer to people when we’re understood by them.
Professionally, individualizing communication improves a team’s function, efficiency, and working environment. Successful professional relationships and camaraderie are not seen on teams where there are frequent communication breakdowns. When you begin to see how people take in and interpret directions they receive and you react accordingly, you’re setting people up for success. That is how teams beat deadlines and crush expectations.
Tell them what they need to hear, how they need to hear it.
This is what effective communication really comes down to. It sounds simple in theory but can be difficult to implement in practice. A good way to guide yourself through the process is to ask yourself: What is it that I am trying to say? What do I want the person (people) to think, feel, or know when they walk away from this interaction? Based on what I know about the person, how can I best deliver this message?
You’ll be cleaning up fewer misunderstandings before you even say a word.
Originally published: choosetohaveitall.com
About the Author
Heather Gray is an executive coach, therapist, and writer with 16 years of clinical experience. Heather regularly writes for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and LifeHack.org. She is also a Lead Editor and contributing writer for The Good Men Project.