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The Freedom of Honesty, The Art of Directness --- Did You Hear What You Think I Said?
By Michael Crow   Printer Friendly Version

In a world where the definition of "communication" now seems to be "technology", you might be forgiven for thinking that communication skills should have become an exact science by now.

Modern communication tools do indeed make our lives easier, yet with all the tools imaginable we still manage to mis-communicate - more often than we care to admit.

A hurried or abbreviated message gets misinterpreted and important information is lost or misunderstood. Conflicts arise - and in this fast-paced world the truth is that now more than ever we must communicate more clearly and effectively.

Effective communication has other important benefits besides accuracy. It promotes understanding, motivation and ultimately productivity. When a leader is able to share her vision or desired outcome with her team through mutual respect and use of good verbal skills, she sets the stage for success. By inviting the teams' input and participation, she is more likely to gain support for her goals and the strategy to achieve them. Occasionally though, something still gets lost in the translation...

A man with an acute pain in his right ear went to the doctor. After waiting almost an hour, the doctor gave him a thorough examination and informed him that he had a bad ear infection and needed medication immediately. She wrote out a prescription with the directions, " Put two drops in R. Ear three times per day" and gave it to the nurse to fill. The nurse, who was having an extremely busy morning, glanced at the prescription briefly, wrote the instructions on the bottle, put it in a bag and gave it to the patient. Arriving home, the man was extremely surprised to read the directions on his medicine. "Two drops in rear three times per day."

While a clearly communicated and effective strategy is always the key to a successful outcome, human error can still be a factor.

In my book, "Intentional Identity": How to Get Everything You Want in Two Days or Less. I outline some essential tools of communication to encourage accuracy, clarity and achieve the desired results at the office and at home. Here are a few to try:

  1. If you are in a potentially heated situation where you may experience hostility or reluctance and need agreement on either the goal or the correct strategy to use, always solicit information and input before offering your solution, i.e. "What is your opinion?" or "What do you think we should do?"
  2. If you are in a position of power (you already have agreement and support), you can advocate your desired outcome and proposed strategy first, before inviting input, discussion and agreement. "This is what I think we should do here. What do you think?"
  3. If others come up with alternative strategies that will achieve the same outcome, be open to allowing them to "run with the ball". Winners are usually independent thinkers who are self-motivated. If you're comfortable they can accomplish the goal, allow them to choose their own route to get there. Be prepared to be flexible and encourage open communication and feedback on their progress.

Finally, here's a technique that works well when you're confronted with unfair or invalid criticism that upsets or offends. It is particularly useful in domestic situations when dealing with an unhappy partner, but can work equally well in a business situation.

The next time someone snaps at you, instead of retaliating just pause - take a breath, then smile (not sarcastically) and say in a pleasant tone of voice, "Would you like to re-phrase that?" Usually your prospective "attacker" will stop, reflect, re-think and then re-phrase in a more positive vein that invites conversation and solutions.

This method simply says, "I heard you, and I didn't enjoy the way you said it. However, I am still listening. Would you like to try that one again please?" By using this technique you are clearly demonstrating that you will not "buy into" negative behavior. You might follow-up with, "I know we have a mutual purpose. We both want to communicate well with each other, yet get our messages across. How can we do this without negative criticism and in a manner that works for both of us?" This approach demonstrates mutual respect and empathy towards the other person and their point of view. It usually promotes a useful discussion and clears the air.

Good communication has another, more subtle reward - peace of mind. When you communicate well, at work and with your loved ones, you will find a wonderful sense of achievement and a positive energy that flows over into every other area of your life. In communicating well with others, you will discover you are better able to articulate your own dreams and desires.

In this fast-paced world where information spans time zones and cultures and we need to communicate instantaneously, we have the luxury of choosing from many state-of-the-art technical and mechanical solutions to get our message out. To ensure that our message is heard and understood though, we will still need to use more than mere technology - we will always need good, "old-fashioned" oral and written skills combined with careful listening - plus of course, that "human touch".

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