“OMG! I have already explained this a hundred times! Are you just stupid?”
I’m pretty sure we’ve all had communication problems, and thought this about somebody at work at least once in our lives. (Hopefully you haven’t said it out loud…). It’s frustrating when you feel that you’re just repeating yourself over and over again.
Good Communication is Harder Than We Realize
Despite how it may seem, however, the person with whom you are frustrated probably isn’t stupid. The fact is, good communication is far more challenging than most of us realize.
My all-time favorite exercise that we use in some of our workshops is one that demonstrates exactly how hard communication really is. (We refer to it as a ‘big-stick’ exercise, because the lesson hits home like a big stick being whacked against your head). It’s amazing to watch as highly skilled, articulate and experienced people struggle with some basic communication tasks.
The message is this: Just because something makes perfect sense to you when it leaves your mouth doesn’t mean it will make perfect sense to the person listening. Conversely, just because you are hearing the words doesn’t mean you are interpreting them the way the speaker is intending.
Diagnose Communication Problems With These Six Questions
So, before you condemn a customer, colleague or boss for not explaining something well or of not paying close enough attention to your instructions, ask yourself these six things:
1. If you have explained something more than once, did you simply explain it the exact same way for a second time? (saying it louder doesn’t count as saying it differently…).
2. When you were listening, did you ask questions to clarify your understanding?
3. Did you give someone multiple instructions or too much information at once? (People struggle to recall one piece of information accurately – much less two or more)
4. Did you try to use more than one communication method (auditory, visual, tactile, kinaesthetic)?
5. When the speaker was finished, did you recap what he or she said in your own words?
6. When speaking, did you avoid vague phrases like “as soon as possible” or “right away?”
If nothing else, have patience. The person you are speaking with is probably trying just as hard as you are!
“Communication isn’t connecting to each other. It’s connecting with each other.”