A Fix for Your Communication Problem
One of the most common problems when two or more humans get together is poor communication. This is a challenge of leaders on any team that can only be combatted by striving for clarity. Actually, you should strive for radical clarity. Let’s talk through an example.
A manager stops an employee in the hallway. “I’d like to talk to you Thursday afternoon for a few minutes about your performance.”
It’s a simple enough communication, but what does it mean and what kind of damage can be caused by this simple sentence? What is the employee thinking? They are likely wondering if they are in trouble. If the employee is especially confident, they might be thinking they will be getting promotion. How will either thought impact the employee’s performance or attitude leading up to Thursday? This simple sentence can set off a chain of unintended consequences.
When striving for radical clarity, the leader should think beyond what is said and focus instead on what was likely heard and even thought. Could the employee misconstrue my intentions? Here are some tips to strive for radical clarity.
- Include the Why - When I was little, my Mom would ask me to clean my room. If I dared ask her why, she would give me the standard reply, “because I said so!”. Sorry Mom, this is not radical communication. We recently decided to implement family chores on the weekends in an effort to keep our house a little cleaner. Instead of just telling our kids to clean their rooms, we explained that we starting to get embarrassed by the condition of the house and had decided that we should all work a little each week to stay on top of it. We shared not only what was expected of them, but also what my wife and I would do. Their response has been excellent.
- Ask for Confirmation - When you are telling another person something, you have the advantage on knowing what you are trying to communicate. You know what you mean, but does the other person know what you mean? Fortunately, you have an expert on the topic standing right in front of you. Ask the other person for feedback when communicating. I was working with Bethany in our office about an approach to a client that was someone complicated. Bethany is very smart and we tend to think similarly about things, but when we finished, I still asked her what she planned to do. Her response indicated that I had failed to communicate something to her, which I easily clarified.
- Communicate in the Right Places - A common 21st century problem is that we often confuse “good communication” with “more communication”. I get hundreds of emails each week in addition to phone calls, text messages, meetings, and random office interactions. Great teams take time to consider key information that must be shared and create a “place” for the communication to occur so that people don’t miss it. For example, our team has weekly client meetings where we discuss our approach and work with all of our clients. When we need to change direction or discuss a strategy, that is where we normally discuss it. Even when things come up during the week, we make notes so that it can all be discussed at once. This allows people to process information more easily and efficiently. Giving random information through the day creates chaos and misunderstandings.
Don’t strive for clarity in your communication. Strive for radical clarity.