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; and,
- A 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 last blog, we covered three tips designed to achieve those goals:
- Be strategic;
- Listen and Ask More, Tell Less; and,
- 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, which we can call the “Golden Rule of Communication.”
Yet, is that the best way to get our message across? Perhaps; though, wouldn’t it be better if we practiced the “Platinum Rule of Communication,” which means communicating with others the way they want to be communicated with?
If so, how do we do that: how do we figure out how others’ take in information, when there are many ways of doing so? After all, 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?
Try these tips:
- 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 it – the first employee was insulted that the second always followed up the communication in writing (“does he think I’m an idiot?”) while the second employee didn’t deliver what was expected because the first employee “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 ground rule. 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 Them to Say Yes”
That very simple principle says it all: When looking for a “yes,” think through the entire process – from “soup-to-nuts,” and provide the answer for every single part of it. Let’s face it, frequently, memos are written and presentations are made that rely upon another – often the person from whom the “yes,” is being sought – to execute the request. That almost never works. True, that person often is the boss, and needs to give the go-ahead; however, she or he is typically extremely busy; 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.
The HR filing system needs to be reworked: there are duplicates, and former employee files are integrated with current files. The team developed a solution and the HR VP said “yes:”
- Two team members were to determine what should be in each file and to develop a checklist.
- A temp would be hired to execute. Even though approval was given, there was no money in the budget to hire the temp! The team assumed that the boss would make the funding available. It never happened.
Had the team thought-through the process from soup-to-nuts, either it would have ensured the funding was in the budget, OR it would have developed another plan that didn’t include spending money. For instance, the team could have found an HR student at a local community college who was able to earn class for credit for updating the files.
Let’s assume the HR team went with the HR student; the “soup-to-nuts” process sent to the VP was, as follows:
- The undersigned team members will read through several files, check with an HR association to develop a best-practices checklist of what to retain, and what to remove – due date: two weeks.
- The list will be forwarded to you at the conclusion of two weeks.
- Train the college student – due date: three weeks.
- 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 information several times – first using the same words, and then altering them. Look for understanding/recognition on the recipient’s face.
- Ask the person to repeat back what was communicated. “I want to make sure what I said was clear. Please repeat it back to me”.
- Ask the person to follow-up with a quick e-mail “I gave way too much information, sorry. Do me a favor and send me an e-mail with your understanding of what I said?”
A Recap: Today’s Three Communication Tips:
- Practice The Platinum Rule of Communication
- Make it Easy for Them to Say Yes
- Check for Understanding