In her landmark 2013 article, Kelly Dickerson captured, 8 Tragic Miscalculations and Miscommunications. A few of the more consequential examples include:
- The 1977 plane crash in the Canary Islands that killed 583 people because of a miscommunication between the pilots and the air traffic controller.
- Miscommunication about what type of cold medicine to take left an 8-year old with severe brain damage.
Communicating intentionally, accurately and clearly, while avoiding miscommunications is vital.
Let’s review. In the first blog, we covered three tips designed to achieve those twin goals:
- Be strategic.
- Listen and ask more, tell less.
- Use “I” statements and banish “You” statements.
Here are three more.
Tip #4: The Platinum Rule of Communication
Most of us are well-meaning and good-intentioned. We communicate with others the way we want to be communicated with. We can call that the “Golden Rule of Communication.”
Is that the best way to get our message across? Or, should we be practicing the “Platinum Rule of Communication,” which means we communicate with others the way they want to be communicated with? If so, how do we do that?
Some of us hear something once and we’re “good to go.” Others need to read something, ponder it and then are “good to go.” While others need to hear it first, read it afterwards, and then put it into their own words.
How do we know the preferred method of those we are communicating with?
- Ask – some will know
- Try the different methods and see what works
- When known, set a ground rule
- Goal: two employees from different teams were assigned to complete a project. One is the “tell me once, and I’ll get it,” while the other was “tell me and then follow up with an e-mail.” You guessed the first employee was insulted that the second always followed up in writing (“does he think I’m an idiot”) while the second employee didn’t deliver because the first “said it once only and didn’t follow-up in writing.”
- Fortunately, the boss intervened, facilitated a conversation between the two, and they set a groundrule. Verbal only to the first employee, and verbal followed by an e-mail to the second. Communication solved – project completed on time and under budget.
Tip #5: Make it Easy for Then to Say Yes
One very simple principle says it all. When looking for approval, think through the entire process – from “soup to nuts.” Frequently, memos are written and presentations are given that rely upon another – often the recipient of the memo or presentation – to execute. That almost never works.
True, the recipient often is the boss, and needs to give the go-ahead; however, she or he is often an extremely busy person and is thrilled to give the nod, but not able to make sure the work is done.
- Think through the entire “ask” – from beginning to end.
- Ensure that everything is in place: people able to carry it out, resources – time, treasure and supplies.
- When approved, follow-up with a short list of what was agreed to, who will do what, and where the resources will come from.
- Take responsibility for completion.
- Let’s take a second look at the HR filing system that needs to be reworked, which we discussed in the first blog: there are duplicates, and former employee files are integrated with current files.Assume the team developed the same solution as set out before: 1) two team members agreed to determine what should be in each file and to develop a checklist; and 2) a temp would be hired to execute. Now assume that approval was given; however, there wasn’t money in the budget to hire the temp. The team assumed that the boss would make the moneys available. Never happened.Had the team thought-through the process from soup-to-nuts, either it would have: ensured the moneys were in the budget OR developed another plan that didn’t include having to hire a temp. For instance, the team would have solved the situation by finding an HR student at a local community college who was able to develop a class for credit for updating the files.
The volunteers then followed-up with an e-mail to boss:
- The undersigned will read through several employee files, check with an HR association to develop a best-practices checklist – due date: two weeks.
- The list will be forwarded to you at the conclusion of two weeks.
- We will train the college student – due date: three weeks.
- We will monitor his performance, and answer questions, assist, when needed: due date: duration of the three-month process.
- We will provide a report to the community college to ensure the student receives his credit
Tip #6: Check for Understanding
This tip follows naturally from tips #4 and #5. Once we’ve determined the best method to communicate to another (the Platinum Rule), and once we have “made it easy for the boss to say yes,” how do we ensure the communication was received as intended?
What are effective ways to check for understanding?
- Repeat the instructions several times – first using the same language and then altering it and look for understanding/ recognition in the recipient’s face.
- Ask the person to repeat back what was communicated “I want to make sure what I asked you do was clear. Please repeat it back to me”.
- Ask the person to follow-up with a quick e-mail “I gave way too many instructions. Do me a favor and send me an e-mail with what you plan to do?”
Look for the final three tips in the next blog.