Here it goes.
I was afraid – no make that petrified – to send my first email.
I must have read it over at least 25 times, scrutinizing every word, wondering if my tone was polite or too forceful; concerned how the other person would interpret it and wary of this new form of communication.
What I have learned over the years about communication – whether it’s an email, a phone call, a face-to-face meeting or a text – is the message will be interpreted based on the receiving person’s mood, experiences and own style of communication.
Think of it this way – you may hand someone an apple, thinking it’s just an apple. But based on his personnel experiences, he may see the apple as something entirely different. Like he might think you are the Evil Stepmother in Sleeping Beauty handing him a poison apple.
Communicating is a tough, tricky and often treacherous task.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be if you remember the six steps for HAVING a great and productive conversation.
Honesty – Let’s be honest. We are all guilty of telling a lie. And why do we lie? Because we are either:
1. Afraid to tell the truth because we are afraid we will get in trouble.
2. Don’t know the right answer so think we can bs our way out of the situation.
3. Don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings by telling the truth or
4. Are actually deceitful and lie so we can try to manipulate the situation in order to remain in control.
If you want to have a productive conversation with someone whether it’s a colleague or spouse, you need to be honest. Honesty creates trust and trust is the basis of every successful relationship/partnership.
Avoid Assuming – Making assumptions on what we believe to be true or what we believe we know is often a cause of communication breakdown. We often assume the other person is going to pick up the croissants and coffee for the breakfast meeting only to be disappointed when he didn’t or we assume the employee knows exactly what we want her to do and then are shocked when she gives you a purple sweater instead of a green. Never assume because as the saying goes, “You make an ass out of you and me.”
Verify the details, the facts, the expectations… I recently had a 2 p.m. meeting. Arrived 5 minutes early. Sat for 30 minutes waiting for the person to show up. I understand people get busy and life can be hectic but this incident taught me to make sure to verify a meeting before driving 30 minutes for it. If I don’t understand something, I call and verify I got the information correct. Taking a few minutes to verify can save a lot of time and headaches in the long run.
Informative information please. Let’s pretend you ask me to make a cheesecake. I give you a chocolate and salted caramel cheesecake. You look at me with disappointment and say this is not what you wanted. Unless you are specific and provide the person with exactly what you want, you are going to be disappointed and time will be wasted. It’s OK to be direct, give an outline, be specific, hand someone a recipe for the kind of cheesecake you want. It’s not OK to play games and expect the person to read your mind.
Never resort to name calling. Once you do, expect World War III. Let’s say your colleague gives you a chocolate cheesecake and you wanted pineapple. If you call her names, she’s likely to strike back. Face it, that’s human nature. Then you get in a huge fight and nothing gets accomplished.
Better approach. Be honest. Tell the person you didn’t communicate what you wanted and you are sorry. Ask politely for her to return to bakery and get a pineapple cheesecake. This way, the task gets done. No feelings are hurt and both of you learn to verify.
Ground rules – I know couples and business partners who have established ground rules for fair fighting and fair communicating. When you work with someone on a day-to-day basis, it’s only natural you will disagree. Rather than getting into a battle, have clear rules ahead of time. For example, say we are not seeing eye-to-eye on this right now. Can we both take a break from the conversation and try again in an hour? Or know if the other person turns and walks away, it’s because he needs to think before he says anything else. It’s also OK to say “By what you said, you have hurt my feelings. I am going to go for a walk so I don’t say anything back.”
A few other quick ideas for improving communication:
- Know how the person likes to communicate – phone, in person, text or email.
- If you know the conversation is going to be a barn burner, set aside time when neither of you are in a crunch to meet a deadline.
- Meet at the beginning and end of each day to go over what expectations are for the day and to recap what got done at the end of the day.
And remember, being a good communicator takes practice. And more practice. If you mess up, apologize, move on and try to learn from your mistakes.