We have all heard the phrase "Communication is a two way street." But is it?
It should be, but in reality, it can be a little more complicated than that. If it were that simple we wouldn't have so many misunderstandings in the workplace (and at home). HR practitioners will tell you it isn't because they spend a lot of time picking up the pieces of broken down relationship that are mostly misunderstandings.
Communication is a funny complex thing. It is not just a two way street of telling and hearing, or giving and receiving. In order to get our message across it often has to scale an obstacle course that would make the toughest soldier cry.
When we say something, it hits the other person’s ears and works it’s way through a whole bunch of filters, belief's, values and perspectives and so by the time it is processed it could be a total different message to the one that left your mouth. Also keep in mind before you sent the message, it pasts through a bunch of filters and what you meant to say or thought you said, might be received and processed in an entirely different way. For example, when I first arrived in New Zealand, I offended someone by saying, “You must go see that movie.” I was shocked by the irritated reaction I got. You see, when I said “you must” my understanding from my South African upbringing is “I highly recommend it”, whereas the Kiwi heard a command from a bossy lady and he didn’t appreciate it. We both made a whole lot of assumptions and it was an awkward moment. Fortunately, I asked him why that had upset him, and explained what I meant and we are still friends today.
In the busyness of life and work, we don't always stop to clarify what it is that we think we heard. Learning to do this would help us prevent a lot of drama. More than half the time, what we think is something we did or said, has nothing to do with us at all.
So what to do we do then?
1. Get curious
Don't assume you know what people are saying, especially if what they are saying is triggering you. Firstly ask yourself why this is affecting you in the way, it is what they are saying or the way they are saying it? Then check to see what they actually mean.
2. Ask questions
If you don't get it, ask questions until you do. They won't mind, and they will not think you are stupid, that is what a conversation is all about. Ask questions until you have clarity.
3. Carry an assumption of honour
An assumption of honour says more about you and how you carry yourself. If you assume the best of others it is harder to judge them harshly and unfairly. Remember, everyone is doing the best they can with what the have.
As a leader, how we communicate has huge impact, for the good or for the bad. Don't assume because nobody has told you you aren't good at this that you are great. Get curious, and brave, ask them if you communicate clearly, ask them how you could improve. Then take a deep breathe, bite your tongue, really listen to what they say, do not be defensive. Thank them for their feedback. Go away and process it, then circle back and then tell them what you agree with and if you don't agree, ask them why they say that before you defend or disagree with them.
Are you brave enough to do that? Let me know if you do that, I would love to hear what you learn about yourself.