“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw
For some cosmic coincidence, communication issues have been the dominant theme at work recently. It’s been a good reminder that communication is not necessary what is said, but what is actually heard. I’ve noticed a few common categories of communication challenges lately:
- Things that should have been said but weren’t — a complete failure to tell someone who should have known about something. They forgot… they didn’t realize… they assumed someone knew. But for whatever reason, they didn’t speak up.
- Things that were unknowingly said to the wrong person and never communicated to the right person — In these cases, the communication about the issue occurred, but never reached the most appropriate recipient, who remained completely ignorant about the issue.
- Things that were actually said but not fully heard by the recipient, or not said firmly enough to make an impression — in these situations the information was shared, but the communication wasn’t completely effective.
The details aren’t important, but the end result in all of these cases was the same. Someone who thought they should have known about something didn’t. And in each case, that “someone” thought they had been wronged or aggrieved — and perhaps disrespected — in the failure to communicate.
I think there are lessons on both sides —
1. Make sure your message has actually reached the right recipient. If you’re not sure, seek confirmation. “Is there anyone else that needs to know about this?” or “I just wanted to make sure you got my email…”
2. Make sure you’re being clear. Sometimes when we’re in uncomfortable message territory or fearful of conflict we may “soften” our messages, and the result is that we aren’t clear about what we’re saying. When in doubt, check for understanding with the recipient! “I just want to make sure that you understand that you need to be at work by 9 am everyday unless you’ve let me know in advance…”
3. Assume good intent. You didn’t know about something that you should have known about? Perhaps there’s a logical explanation for what happened. Don’t assume that you have the full story until you’ve taken the time to talk it through. Be curious not judgmental.
We’re all in the communication business. I’m always struck by how two people can see or hear the same thing and have completely different impressions of what has just happened. That’s because we all filter our day-to-day experiences through different lenses. Don’t let your filters create communication illusions!