How often do your staff reply with, “Oh, I thought you meant…(insert completely different action to what was being asked of them) in a conversation, or when a task is half way through and now requires restarting?
You don’t need me to walk you through the frustration you feel, do you?
And I am sure that this frustration is not confined only to conversations with just your staff. You will find it all around you. Consider the deli assistant who gives you three pieces of ham in response to a request for a handful, or your offspring who interprets the statement, “Pick your clothes up”, to mean put them on the bed until night time and then return them to the floor….
You may ask yourself, “Why this confusion? Why am I not getting the result I expect?” Well, here’s the thing. We each experience and interpret, let’s call it the ‘data’ of an event, instruction or scenario differently and then generalise this data for later use – ah, so X means Y in this instance and going forward I’ll use it here/there, for example. Disagreements and misunderstandings show we can receive the same instructions to then head off down different paths due to the abstract, yet generalised nature of the request.
What your staff then do – their actions and response to your message rely upon the quality of your communication and delivery. Yup, you’ve got it! Any lost information or ambiguous language begins with you.
Although the language used may sound grammatically correct, it is presented by you, in response to our busy world and our desire to move the interaction along. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to learn the recipients, also wanting to move, is relying on their previous ‘data’ to fill any gaps they find in your instructions. In the absence of explicit detail, people will create meaning or interpret what you are saying in a way that seems right to them.
And this all happens unconsciously…so if the message you want to relay is important – check to ensure the recipient receives the message which you intended to send.
- A note on the latest Board report with the instruction, “Send this out please.”
- Pointing to a group of people and exclaiming, “They are small business owners.”
- Rushing into the staff room offering, “The cat is stuck!”
Hmm. What were your thoughts as you read these statements? Did your mind automatically assume things and create a picture in your mind of what you thought I meant?
- The report? Send it where? To the naughty corner? To dinner?
- Small business owners? Are you referring to the vertical height of the owners or the number of employees employed by the enterprise?
- Where and how is the cat stuck? Up a tree or sending out the Board report?
The goal of that exercise is to demonstrate how our minds automatically react to information and create its own stories.
You can see where the problem lies? Yes? A nod of the head or a “Got it,” reply only indicates that a message was received. It does not signify that the required action was completely understood.
To have great communication with your staff – and let’s not forget all those within our daily lives – the responsibility lies with you to anticipate a potential error in the interpretation of your message. It is then up to you to check that the message has been received exactly as you intended and no misunderstanding has resulted.
Training yourself to look for missing, or ambiguous information, in your language will serve you well. You will directly improve your organisational productivity, you will find tasks or requests completed on time and you will find them done to an established standard. With the effort you put into enhancing your communication with others, you might notice your staff also then step into that responsibility, and in turn, train themselves to be aware of any loss of information due to the use of ambiguous language in their own world.
Being understood, just like workplace health & wellbeing needn’t be difficult, and if you like to see some other ways I encourage your staff to engage in their health & wellbeing, grab my guide today.