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It Was Just a Misunderstanding

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					It was just a misunderstanding... that's not what I meant.... Have you heard those, or
similar statements, recently? If you have, then you are in the midst of a breakdown in
communication. The best leaders are excellent communicators, and they encourage a
clear, effective exchange of information in their teams. Yet we often experience
confusion and misinterpretation at work (and at home). What is going on? Quite
simply, we don't work at stating our ideas explicitly. We take communication for
granted, we get lazy, we get careless--and then, bad things happen.

With all the communication tools at our disposal, we are more at risk than ever for
miscommunication. Isn't it great that email has that "receive receipt" function? I think
there is a "read receipt" message also. In using these, we are notified that the receiver
of the message did, in fact, get the message from us.

Of course, there is no "understand receipt" to insure that the receiver actually "got"
what we were trying to say. When we are face-to-face, body language and changes in
pace, tone and vocal inflection help us to determine if our message has been
understood. In email, we lose these important visual and aural cues, making
successful communication much more difficult. Misunderstandings become frequent,
and additional emails meant to clarify can make the even situation worse.

At this point, it would be appropriate to visit the classic (and often misquoted) study
on communication by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus at UCLA. Dr.
Mehrabian examined the process by which people decide whether they like one
another. The results of his research tell us that how we say something is critically
important to others' understanding of our message. And, as we noted above, this is
precisely the factor that is lost in written communication. Therefore, the more we use
such quick and easy means of communicating as email and text messaging, the more
at risk we are of being misunderstood.

Don't get me wrong; I love email. It is a very convenient, efficient, and effective
method of sending and receiving information--but sometimes, it just isn't good
enough. I also love looking someone in the eye and seeing that they "get it." Last
week, I flew to San Francisco on short notice for this very reason—to make
sure my meaning was received and understood clearly. I didn't want to fly
cross-country for a four-hour meeting, but I did anyway, because it was that
important.

How often do you send an email or leave a voice mail when you would be better
served by interacting face-to-face? It's tempting to hide behind email. But vital
nuances can easily fall through the cracks. What about your people? I spoke to a
friend about this the other day and he said this about his managers, "I tell them to call
someone and they send an instant message. They are missing my entire point."

Misunderstandings cost money. For that reason alone, we must work to eliminate
them. Always remember the "understand receipt" function when you are
communicating with someone--no matter what method you are using.

				
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posted:1/23/2011
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