When those around you are communicating poorly, what options do you have? (Hint: There are five listed here)
I could almost guarantee that you’d say your workplace has communication problems, and I’m nearly as certain that you know exactly who is to blame. We have all worked with people who just do not communicate well; they are unclear, confusing, late with their timing, or sometimes don’t even give information out at all. If we could just get those people to communicate better, our jobs would be so much better. We would be happier people. I even bet all of our life problems would go away. …. Well, at least we sometimes act like these things are true.
We all want to be informed in a clear and timely fashion of all relevant information to do our jobs. If you are expected to complete a job by the end of the week, I am sure you need to know (1) the job, (2) the expectations, and (3) relevant details. You also need to have been told with enough advanced notice to give you time to complete your task. Sometimes, however, this is not the case. I would venture to say that this is not the case even most of the time in many work environments. We have become used to being reactive and rushing to meet unclear and seemingly meaningless goals. Wouldn’t it be nice to have time to plan your work and know why you are doing what you are doing?
So, what can you do? When those around you are communicating poorly, what options do you have? I have frustratingly, tremendous news for you. The responsibility for bettering the communication of those you work with belongs to you… it always has.
Much, if not most, of effective communication is controlled by the receiver. There are several things you can do to better the communication between you and those you work with.
- Be clear about what you expect/need.
When someone doesn’t know your expectations or needs, they are forced to guess. That’s a bad start! As you work with someone, be clear about what you need from them. If you need two weeks’ notice of job changes, let them know. If you need information written down and emailed to you rather than mentioned in passing in the hall, tell them so. The clearer you can be about what you expect or need from them with regard to how, when, and what information is communicated to you, the better their communication will be. Ask them if they understand what you are asking of them and get them to agree with you. This may seem like a remedial or condescending way to work with someone, but it is not, and will help you both in the future. This is how you set yourself up to receive good communication.
- Clarify the message.
When someone communicates with you, there are a lot of things that can go wrong in getting the message from his or her mind into yours. If you are talking, then noise or distraction in the room can interfere. If you are reading an email, a mistaken tone can alter the perceived meaning of the message. If you are in a meeting, you might not be listening. Your role is paramount in making sure the message you are hearing is what is intended. A useful technique is to say “let me make sure I am understanding,” and then repeat the message back. Don’t make assumptions either. If someone is telling you something and you don’t fully understand, don’t pretend to know and think you’ll figure it out later. Make sure that you fully understand the intended message by clarifying all the information.
- Ask additional questions.
Only you know what you need to know. If, after clarifying the message, you don’t have all the information you need – ask for it. Don’t fall victim to partial information. It could be that the person doesn’t know you need the information or also doesn’t have the information. Either way, you need to find out. If the person has the information you need, yet won’t provide it, you’re not dealing with a communication problem; rather, something far more toxic.
- Summarize the message.
Once you have clarified the message you are receiving and have asked all other relevant questions, repeat the message back in full. By repeating the message in full, you are able to concisely review all relevant information and make sure that you and the messenger are in agreement with regard to the message and its purpose/intent. If, after summarizing and repeating the message back, you discover you have missed a component of the message, go back to step 2 and repeat until you are both in agreement about the message and its purpose.
- Add your message.
Now, and only now, that you are clear and in agreement about the message being communicated, it is time to insert your own message. If you have thoughts to contribute, ideas about alternatives, or access to additional information, now is the time – not a minute before! Adding your message prior to this point almost guarantees miscommunication or conflict.
I want to say this again… Adding your message prior to this point almost guarantees miscommunication or conflict.
Perhaps one more time for good measure… Adding your message prior to this point almost guarantees miscommunication or conflict!
This is just the beginning of clear, clean, and meaningful communication. Repeat this process, over, and over, and over, and over until all relevant information is introduced to the conversation, is clear, and well understood. I know this seems like a lot of effort, and it is. Good communication takes time, effort, and purposeful engagement. Not everything needs to be communicated in this fashion, but everything important certainly needs to be.
Remember, when those around you don’t communicate well, there are several things you can do to improve their communication.
If you follow these steps, and you still don’t get clear and timely information, it’s not a communication problem, it’s a relational problem. Time for a different approach.