As regular contributor to Women’s Ally, every month we receive a different topic to write about. Last September the topic was Effective Communication. Instead of writing what makes good communication, I focused on what blocks clear communication. Out of the sea of all the things you can do to improve your communication, there are three things you shouldn’t do.
I know that in my younger years, I often missed the major issue because I assumed I knew the true problem or stumbling block. There is a very simple tool that you can use to solve miscommunication due to assumption – ask. Asking questions before communicating your thoughts are powerful. First, you empower the other party by making the interaction a true discussion. Second, you learn what the other individual is thinking and can adapt your style, content, and message to match their mindset.
For instance, let’s say there is a manager who is very dissatisfied with their employee. The employee is not being as proactive as desired and does not handle situations the same as the manager would have. The manager may be ready to berate the employee for not being committed to their position. But instead of launching into the prepared speech, the manager starts by asking questions. By asking questions, the true issue surfaced. An issue the manager would never have known about without asking. The issue was not the employee’s lack of motivation, but a differing style and a need for some training.
This second block to clear communication, judgment, is based off the first. Usually one will assume something about another because of a judgment they have made. In the illustration above, the manager’s gut reaction was to judge the employee as lazy and unmotivated. But what was discovered was the issue was not motivation but experience and education. When you are preparing for and in the midst of communication be aware of your own judgments. Question whether they are fact or supposition. Unless they are fact, let them go and see how your communication becomes more open and untainted.
If you aren’t assuming or judging, it will make it much easier for you to be unemotional about your communication. The emotions I am referring to here are the emotions that cloud our mind because of feelings of anger, betrayal, disappointment, or frustration. Ask questions to determine the underlying story of the other individual. Remove the assumptions and judgments you are making. This includes removing the thought that the individual is doing something to you. Nine times out of ten the motivation for actions are internal to them and not about you. Their issues are based on their own fears or desires. Once you can remove the assumption that the issues are personal attacks, it is easier to stay unemotional, get to the heart of the matter, and find solutions.
This does not mean that you can not express your feelings when necessary, but they should be expressed in a healthy, constructive manner. Always say “I feel,” but do not use words like manipulated, used, or cheated that imply your feelings are due to the actions of the other individual. Determine if emotions are truly necessary to convey the message or if they change the issue. For example, “I feel angry that I was looked over for this promotion” makes anger the issue to be resolved. Where “what criteria did you use to determine who would receive the promotion” opens the discussion to actionable facts.
As you work on improving your communication ability, remember not to assume, judge, or become emotional. See how removing these three obstacles can increase your ability to communicate clearly and in a manner that is well received.