Clear, concise, and intentional communication is the key to successful relationships -- even more so in today’s workplaces, when miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, which often results in work product that misses the mark.
The potential for miscommunication is exacerbated when it happens at the speed of one’s fingertips, and none of us tends to edit our electronic missives as we might a formal document. Added to this mix of potential miscommunication is the increasingly diverse workforce. All studies indicate that diverse workplaces result in greater productivity and creativity; however, diversity can also lead to miscommunication.
Last year’s post "3 communication tips to implement today" offered this advice:
- Be both strategic and tactical;
- Accept responsibility. Use "I" statements and banish "you" statements;
- Show gratitude. Thank someone for being helpful, and/or give out an attaboy or attagirl for a job well done.”
This post addresses three more communication tips to implement today:
- Communicate in different methods or modes: “If you can’t get then on the merry-go-round, get them on the slide.”
- Check for understanding: Was the cCommunication clear? Was it understood?
- Use the subject line on emails effectively: Get the message out.
Communicate in different methods or modes
If we operate from the standpoint that the goal in workplace communication is often to give an assignment -- to get someone to complete and deliver a work product to our satisfaction -- it’s imperative that we communicate in a way that is understandable and understood.
Yet, not all of us takes in information the same way: Some listen once and “get it the first time;” some want to hear it more than once, either in the same exact language or in different words; some want to see it in writing; others like to hear it and then receive a written follow-up.
Some of us know what method we prefer, while others haven’t thought about it.
(A contracts professor used to say “if you can’t get then on the merry-go-round, get them on the slide; if you can’t get them on the slide, get them on the swings ...” I cannot remember how this concept relates to contracts; however, it’s a great device for thinking about communicating and being understood.)
The how tos?
- Try asking: “Henry, my goal is to be understood and we may take in information differently. What is your preferred method?” If Henry knows, that’s great. Honor the request. If he doesn’t . . .
- Try the various methods and modes: Say it one way, say it again another way, follow up in writing. Or, better yet, ask people to let you know what they understood. “Henry, I was clear as a bell in my mind, and want to make sure I was clear as a bell in your mind. Let me know in your words what I’ve asked you to do ... “ or “How about going back to your office and sending me an email with what I’ve asked you to do.”
Check for understanding: Was the communication clear? Was it understood?
A companion concept to the first tip, this tip compels one to check for understanding. I have found that many supervisors consider it condescending to do this, thinking that other adults would find it insulting to be asked to repeat what was said or to restate the communication in their own words.
It’s all in the ask. Whether you believe you were clear (and maybe you were), if the receiver doesn’t understand, then it was a wasted communication -- the goal of the communication was not achieved.
By the same token, as a consultant whose business depends upon delivering what the client wants/has asked for, I never hesitate to repeat back what I think is wanted. After all, failing to deliver what the client wants means I have just lost that client forever.
The how tos as the communicator: It’s all in the ask
- Accept responsibility. “Juana, I just rattled off four concepts that have been on my mind for a week. I’m not sure if what I said made sense. Please tell me what you understood me to say?” If Juana got it, then say “great, glad I was clear.” If Juana didn’t get it “I was afraid I wasn’t clear, let me try it again.”
- Stress the criticality of the communication and the person’s important role in it. ”Juana, this assignment is vital to the success of our department. I’ve asked you to complete it because I have confidence in your work. Please forgive me if I repeat what the goal is a few times. It’s important that I’m clear. In fact, it’s so important, I am going to ask you to repeat what you understood me to ask to make sure we are on the same page.”
The how-tos as the communicatee
- Own it. “Adam, I understood you to ask ...” or “I understood you to say ...” or “Adam, if I understood you correctly, we can help your organization by providing ... “ If Adam agrees, that’s great. If not, he will say, “Actually, what I want is ...”
- Use your own words. ”Adam, to make sure I got what you were asking, let me try it using my own words. Here goes ... “
Use the subject line on emails effectively: Get the message out
We all receive considerably more emails in a given day than we can read, let alone respond to. Our “junk mail” may well be filled with significant communications that we might have read – or acted upon -- had they caught our attention.
If one uses the subject line strategically, the likelihood if it being read increases significantly. Among the many concerns that can be overcome through the effective use of the subject line:
- Too little descriptive information;
- The importance and timeliness of a response;
- Whether the person receiving the information should take action;
- When the dialogue gets going and the subject line is no longer relevant.
- State concisely what the email contains. An example: "Team Meeting to be Held February 12th at Noon in Conference Room A: Details Below in Email"
- State level of importance. For instance: "Customer Question: Need Response in Two Hours" (or 24 hours, etc.)
- State why the person is receiving the email. Examples include “Need Your Input” “FYI Only” or “If I Don’t Hear Back in ___, I will Act as Below”
- Change the subject line when the content changes. Once a discussion takes off, the subject matter often changes, and the content in the subject line is no longer relevant. Look at the subject line from time to time and change it to reflect the state of the communication.
Diana Peterson-More, employment lawyer, corporate officer and consultant left a Fortune 200 to launch Organizational Effectiveness Group LLC. Her company focuses on aligning people with organizational purpose and strategy. She is the best-selling author of "Consequential Communication in Turbulent Times" and is a sought-after coach, facilitator and speaker.