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Not what you meant?

Somewhere in the gap between your mouth and someone else’s ears, messages can get muddled. The messages that people receive are sometimes not the messages that we intended to send. How do we know this? Maybe one of the following happens;

  • The other person doesn’t do the things that we have asked them to
  • Suddenly someone is angry or offended
  • The other person doesn’t respond to you in a way that makes sense to you

This is not like the whispering game that we played as children, where a message gets changed each time it is repeated to someone new. This is one message, from one person to another person. What could possibly go wrong (refer to bullet points above!)

A common gripe that I hear is this, “It’s just easier to do it myself”. That’s fine if that is what you want to do and you have the time to do it. However if you’re already paying someone to do things that you end up doing, something is wrong (and economically unsound you’d have to say).

Sending messages, especially important messages is more complex than it appears at first glance. It may mean that you need to take a little more time both to prepare your message and to take part in any discussion that may arise as a result.

Here’s a way to bridge the gap between your mouth and someone else’s ears. Ask them what they heard you say, make sure that the other person can explain to you what you want so that you feel confident that they will start that task understanding what you meant. It may take a minute or two longer to have this discussion but if you’re wondering if it’s worth it, refer to the bullet points above.

If you’re the one receiving the message, take the initiative. Check that what you think you’ve been asked to do is what the other person wants. Don’t guess, check.

This act of checking is a reflection back to the other person of what they have said so that they are able to listen to your interpretation and nip any discrepancies in the bud. Here’s an example;

A: “Please treat this presentation as a top priority, I need it for a really important sales meeting”

B: “ You’d like me to drop what I’m doing and get this done immediately?”

A: “No, the meeting is not until Friday but I’d like it by Thursday morning just to go over it”

That sounds trivial – but how many times have you been told something is urgent only to discover after you stayed late, or deferred other work- that no one looked at what you did for a week or two? You might think that’s no big deal but over time things change (refer to the bullet points above).

The quality of our communication with others impacts the quality of the relationship we have with them. It impacts the way we feel about our work or situation. It can impact the way that you feel about yourself.

Talking is easy, communicating effectively becomes easy too when you understand what communication entails and how to use that knowledge to achieve the outcomes that you want, while maintaining the relationships that are important to both your success and happiness.

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