Isn’t it amazing how two people can be involved in the same conversation, yet take away completely different viewpoints of what was said? Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you felt absolutely convinced you had a clear understanding, only to find out later you must have been trapped in some alternate universe?
Whether it’s with a colleague, customer, spouse, boss, friend, family member or your favorite pet, the chances are pretty good you’ve had a misunderstanding with someone at one point or another. I generally find that the root cause of most productivity, communication, and team problems share a couple of common denominators…differing perspectives and miscommunication. We each see the world through our own lens.
The picture above illustrates what happens with even the simplest idea in almost every organization across the world. Something as simple as a tire swing can become completely convoluted and misunderstood.
While there’s no way to completely eliminate misunderstandings, there are absolutely ways to minimize them. Try these techniques for clear communication:
1. Focus on the goal. Stephen Covey says to start with the end in mind. In an effort to reach the goal, we often get sucked into minutia. Don’t forget to always go back to the goal. What are we trying to accomplish?
2. Get curious. Curiosity is one of the best strategies for minimizing uncertainty, defensiveness, and miscommunication. Ask questions with the intention of trying to understand, not just for the sake of asking. Lots of people don’t ask questions because they don’t want to be embarrassed that they’ve asked a dumb one. Just like my teacher always said, the only dumb questions are the ones never asked. What do you think made Columbo one of the best detectives of all time!
3. Paraphrase. This is one of the best ways to make people feel heard. It can be as easy as saying something like, “I want to make sure I understand. What I hear you saying is….”. Not only does it clarify things for you, but it lets the other person know you’re sincerely listening.
4. Pay attention to your nonverbal communication. A large majority all communication is nonverbal (The statistic that sites nonverbal communication is over 90% of all communication is often misstated). You could have an entire conversation without ever saying a word. People read your facial expressions, body language, and your overall demeanor. When you’re verbal and nonverbal communication contradicts each other, people believe the nonverbal. You can test this next time you ask someone who seems to be having a really bad day how they’re doing. When they say, “I’m fine”, do you believe them?
These techniques will improve understanding and communication dramatically. The best part is that these strategies work with almost everyone. People just want to feel heard and to be understood.