Did you just roll your eyes and did you think to yourself that you know what is going to come next in this post? Well, if you assumed you knew, then this is definitely the stuff you’d want to read. Assumptions, especially in communication, can be the biggest mistake you could make! Whether at work or in our personal lives, we all have either been victims or culprits of bad communications. Sometime we term them as “misunderstandings” sometimes we term them as “miscommunication” or just a bad day, filled with emotions that spilled all over.
Here’s an actual scenario that happened with my friend. My friend (let’s call her Meeta here) shared an experience she had with a colleague (let’s call him Alex). Alex was having a bad day and Meeta really wanted to get Alex’s opinion on a report she had been preparing for days, for a big client. Meeta trusted that she’s going to get the best response from Alex, since not only is he her friend but also great in the field of work. So, she approached him personally first, to check if he would view her stuff. Since Alex was busy and having a terribly hectic day, without even looking at Meeta, he said, “Why do you always ask for this? Don’t you see I am busy? Send it over and I will check it later and give you feedback.”
Meeta was taken aback and said, “okay!” She didn’t really appreciate the situation but sent an email asking him what he thought about the report. They sat down with their colleagues for lunch that day and Alex started saying a bit irritble, “you have written it well. But why do you stick to so much text and word format. My suggestion is you change the format and convert the whole thing into a presentation instead of a word document because it makes more sense and our competitors are doing that as well.” Everyone around the table stopped and stared at the two for a moment and then continued with their lunch. Meeta said, “Thanks but I don’t want to change anything.” and left.
Now, what do you think went wrong? Is there a single person that we can blame? Or none or both?
To think of the situation as a third party, they both are victims and culprits of miscommunication. Now, no one is in someone’s head to really know what a person goes through during the day. It is only through effective communication that we can understand each other better.
Let’s face it, neither was Alex the type who wanted to demean Meeta’s work nor did Meeta intend to push for “feedback” when she knew how troubled Alex had been that day. So, why did the conversation end up in such a displeased state that Meera eventually was offended and Alex was irritated?
Without realizing communication mistakes cost us a promotion, our jobs, our friendships, other relationships and even good clients. In no specific order, it is primarily because of these nine reasons that we often commit communications mistakes:
- Preconceiving the context: The biggest communication blunder that we do is to preconceive someone’s situation without actually checking on the person. We are quick to assume things, to form opinions and prejudge situations . Of course, if a person has always been negative or spoken ill of others then you are most likely to trace an opinion that they are likely to exhibit the same behavior again. However, in certain situations, especially in critical communications, let’s just give them the benefit of doubt shall we? Once you free yourself from this notion, you are better aware of ways of communicating with another person.
- Having a closed mind: At the spur of the moment, we may not really be cautious about keeping an open mind to situations, people and ideas. However, we can train our minds to actually listen to another person, without any preconceived notions and prejudices. Though it is good to be tough willed but that should not be confused with having a closed mind. An open mind accepts situations, people and nuances as they are. In the above situation, had Meeta opened her mind regarding Alex’s feedback, she would have turned the situation around in her favor, even though Alex chose an inappropriate situation (lunch table with colleagues) to discuss the matter (which was addressed personally in an email).
- Reacting first and then listening: Observe the conversations you have had in the past, that may have affected you deeply. Often when reflect upon situations, we realize, we react almost instantaneously, without really thinking about the situations and empathizing with another person. For instance, when Meeta noticed Alex was troubled, she could have listened and reacted later. Empathizing with Alex’s situation and asking if he is doing well as a courtesy would have been good as well (yes, it even works when you are best friends with someone). The truth is, we often we listen to react, rather than just to listen and be present in the moment.
- Using the “I” word more than the “we”: We often think about ourselves first and then the others. It can also be a big cause for conflict. This is particularly apt for team projects and with close relationships. Often we use the word I in everything: I want to do this, I think it should be this way, I suggest it should be this way. Instead of wording it differently and involving all the parties. For instance these examples, “we could focus on the situation differently by doing A and not B.” Or “We are going in the right direction and here’s another strategy.” Wording the conversations appropriately is a MUST and I can write a whole blog on it! It is the way you come across as more assertive to people. Involving others in the conversation rather than only speaking of yourself adds to your credibility as well.
- Being negative and apathetic towards others: If you are often too negative about situations and people around you. You might end up getting perceived that way when you might have been actually saying something optimistic. It is the most common thing that people do these days because our lives are just so busy. We forget to be empathetic towards someone else’s situations and conditions. When we are not present in the moment, we tend to only focus on our situations and become apathetic to someone else’s just as it happened in Meeta and Alex’s case. Meeta didn’t even regard Alex’s situation, because she only looked concerned about herself even though Alex mentioned that he was going through stress. There are many folks who may not even be able to express it unless they are probed further. So always keep that option open.
- Stating instead of asking or requesting: You would be least influential in a conversation when you always speak in a commanding tone. The key to communicating with better influence is to be extremely polite with another person, when in a situation where you need to communicate something that bothers you, or provide a feedback or get something done. Rather than stating something in a way such as: “I want you to do____.” Always say it as “Could you please do this ______.” This is cliched but absolutely true – tried and tested.
- Using the wrong medium at the wrong time: Now let’s go back to Alex and Meet’s example. Knowing that someone has asked you for a review in person and sent a personal email, you cannot communicate your comments in a public place. It is like sharing your thoughts out in the public without understanding what the other party would feel. Especially if the feedback is negative or can affect another person in different ways. It is always best to speak privately and sustain a communications decorum.
- Assuming authority: This is something that 90% of the people don’t project intentionally, but often come across as authoritative. Some folks even believe that showing authority is the way of life and that is how they can “lead” and go places. That’s absolutely untrue! This is the attitude which leads to conflict and is the biggest hindrance in communicating effectively and should be let loose immediately. When people are an actual authority over certain things they would never show it. It is not only classy to not assume authority and speak to another in that way but also to stay humble in all communications (online of offline).
- Making it flight or fight situations: We often make all communications fight or flight situation in life. Our brains are geared in such a way that we almost always feel the need to fight it out or escape the conversation, as though there is no middle ground. I’ve struggled with this situation since I could possibly remember… however, I’ve trained myself to communicate in a way that would actually make situation work in our favor. You can make your point clear, get the right message across by catching the nerve of the person, you are communicating with.
Now, I wouldn’t contest that fact that there are definitely some kind of people with whom you cannot just connect after a while. Sometimes it is an indication that you must “let it go.”
Now, you tell me, share it with the readers, have you ever had a situations where you’ve been misunderstood or you would have miscommunicated? How did you deal with the situation? Or do you think you are a communications pro and have better mechanisms to deal with certain tricky situations? Write it down in comments below or on my Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.If you’re looking for soft-skills coaching to reach higher in your workplace and success in life, then get in touch and we could work it out!
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