By Dinyah Rein
What is the impact of miscommunication in your relationship? How often are you frustrated that “they” didn’t get what you meant? Do you find yourself doing what you thought “they” wanted, only to find out it wasn’t?
Whether “they” are your customer, your employer, your employee, your spouse, parent, child or friend, miscommunications are costly, and all too common. Is there an alternative?
Believe it or not, you can, single-handedly, put an end to miscommunications. That’s right – even if “they” never change, just by learning a few simple strategies and practicing them diligently, you can stop suffering from the lost time, wasted effort, and emotional drain of misunderstandings. Want to know how?
The Keys to Creating Understanding
As the Speaker – The Meaning of Your Communication is What They Heard, NOT What You Meant
When it comes to communicating without misunderstandings, the single most important thing you can do as the speaker is to give up any attachment to what you believe meant. It’s basically irrelevant. The meaning your listener receives is what they are left with. That is your communication – what they believe you meant. That’s what they’ll base their reaction or response on. That basically IS your communication.
Speaking is All About Listening
So, if the meaning of what you said is what they heard – now what? Become a great listener. That’s right – the key to being an effective speaker, one who gets their point across well, is to be a fabulous listener.
Listen to What They Heard
The first step is to ask your listener what they heard. When they respond, don’t check how good their listening was, and correct them. Listen for what you need to correct about how you said it. Try to understand what assumptions they may have that are influencing their listening, and see how to take this into account to be clearer. Apologize for not being clear, and say it differently. Encourage them to ask questions, and work together to create a common understanding.
Listen to the Subtle Cues
Listening goes beyond just hearing the words someone says. Tune in and listen to your intuition. Are you absolutely confident that they heard it the way you meant it? Or is there a small doubt, maybe in your stomach somewhere, a hesitation? A good rule is, “When in doubt, check it out.” Ask them.
You also want to watch their subtle cues. Are they behaving the way you would expect them to if they heard what you meant to say, or is something a bit off. Again, check it out. Ask, and listen for opportunities to clarify and sort through any possible misunderstandings. The sooner you do this, the less time there is for trouble to brew.
The bottom line – as the speaker, your primary job is to listen – to be in tune with the person to whom you are speaking and not consider the communication complete until you have confirmed that what they heard is what you meant.
When You’re Listening – Listen for What They Meant
In the role of the listener, the opportunity is to take responsibility to understand what they meant. Again, the easiest way to accomplish this is to ask clarifying questions, until you’re really certain.
Don’t Assume Anything
Make sure you avoid the common pitfall of reacting to what you think they meant. How many times has someone said something to you, and you immediately felt your blood rise, or a knot form in your stomach, or the impulse to blurt out a response? What if these reactions were more about what you thought they meant, than what they really meant? What if you paused, gave them the benefit of the doubt, and asked clarifying questions? How much of the potential upset, conflict or confusion could be avoided if you didn’t assume and react?
The other place where assuming gets you in trouble is when you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, I know what that is,” or “I know what they mean.” And you start thinking, and eventually acting, based on an assumption that wasn’t fully accurate. For example, maybe they were asking you to do something for them, and you, thinking you understood, went to do it, only to find out after you’d put in considerable effort that they weren’t asking for that, but rather something else.
Take Responsibility, Ask More Questions, and Watch the Clarity Unfold
Ultimately you have the power to create remarkably clear communications, every single time. Catch yourself in the act of assuming or reacting, whether you are the “listener” or the “speaker”. Slow down. Ask more questions. Give it a try. After all, what is there to lose, other than a lot of frustration.