Here are three types of communications to avoid that frequently backfire:
USING AN INDIRECT SUGGESTION TO CONVEY A REQUIREMENT:
Managers often tell me that they have given precise and clear directions to someone who works for them and that they’re quite upset about how far from the mark the results were that the person achieved. Even worse, the managers sometimes tell me that the individual paid no attention to their instructions and guidelines at all. When I probe further to determine how a clear instruction was so misinterpreted, I often learn that the managers never actually communicated any specific requirements at all. Instead they have started their clear instruction with,
“Why don’t you do it like this …”
“A better approach to what you’re doing is …”
“I would prefer you to …”
The potential for clarity of description for these is without debate. The manager can express very clear descriptions of how to achieve a task. What is totally missing from this language is the clarity of requirement. Certainly preference is stated. And yet, removal of choice and requirement of action are nowhere stated.
The recommendation to use equal, level, mutually respectful two-way communication is the first fundamental tenet in my book: SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success. The emphasis on avoiding micro-management of employees is valid and beneficial. A manager can communicate in a level way without micromanaging and still clearly convey specific task requirements.
ASKING A CLOSED-ENDED QUESTION TO VERIFY UNDERSTANDING:
Another communication deficit closely linked to how managers are surprised by unexpected and undesirable outcomes is the tendency they have to ask questions like these:
In most instances, the immediate answers to these questions are, “No.”, “Yes.” and “Yes.”. What verification occurs with this type of closed-ended questions? None at all, actually. Even when these answers are sincere, they cannot tell the manager if what he or she wanted to convey was actually understood or will be retained.
Much better questions for the manager to ask are:
“What questions do you have about XXX?”
“What are the most important concepts you got from what I just presented?”
“How can you best use the information I have just described?”
“What do you think is most significant about this topic?”
RELYING ON FACIAL EXPRESSION, EYE CONTACT AND ANIMATION FOR ASSURANCE THAT A COMMUNICATION HAS BEEN UNDERSTOOD AND WILL BE WELL-EXECUTED:
A project manager said to me,
“I know that my team understands what I’m saying because I see that they’re listening closely. I can tell from their facial expression and their eye contact that they’re engaged and attentive.”
This belief that her team understands what she is telling them was in contrast to her low self-ratings on clear communication, team development and obtaining results. For sure, eye contact and facial expression are strong and clear indicators of how engaged people are. People’s engagement can be a preliminary gauge of comprehension. The fact is though that people can listen very attentively and still miss a good deal of what is presented to them. Also presenters can engage people and convey something other than what is intended. Full attention to what is said cannot guarantee desired execution and results.
In addition to monitoring how attentive an audience appears to be, it is critical to incorporate into all business (and social) venues verification of understanding and retention of information though multiple and varied two-way communications.
Until next time,