Fundamental #16: Communicate to be Understood
The 30 Fundamentals that make up the “ConnectSMART Way” describe how we want to run our business – the way we treat our clients, the way we work with each other, and even the way we relate to our vendors and suppliers. They’re who we are and they’re the foundation of our success. They drive everything we do, every day. Each week we focus on a different fundamental and discuss in depth.[/content_box]
Fundamental #16: Communicate to be Understood
Know your audience. Write and speak in a way that they can understand. Avoid using internal lingo, acronyms, and industry jargon. Use the simplest possible language. Be succinct, but with context. Communicate with clarity.
It seems like a really simple statement. “Communicate to be understood”. Of course, isn’t that the whole purpose of communication? While it should be, unfortunately, it often isn’t the only reason for communication. Some ulterior motives tend to slip into our communications whether we recognize – or intend – for it to. The single most important element in any relationship is communication. Whether it is a business or personal relationship, without proper communication there is really no way for it to grow. Anything that requires teamwork requires communication. It may not necessarily mean talking or verbal communications, but without communication there is no team. So what is it that makes a simple concept like this so difficult? Why do most people believe that they are good communicators while very few actually are? Of course we want to communicate to be understood, right? Below are some of the things that prevent us from being able to communicate.
All of these are things that prevent us from being able to communicate. Now that everyone has the graphic above we will never have another issue right? Maybe not so quickly. As you look at this graphic and you think about any issues that you have had with communications with others either professionally or personally, did identify what the other person did incorrectly in the communication interchange that failed? Were they in the wrong mood, it was too noisy for them to understand, their perception of reality is off base? We naturally attribute these failures to others. This is what makes this fundamental powerful. While it is true that the other party has a part to play the onus is on me to communicate to be understood. That usually ties in directly to fundamental #6 of checking my ego at the door. It is MY responsibility to communicate to each one in a way that they can understand. Are I communicating or bloviating? Many times we are so impressed with ourselves that we don’t take the time to try to communicate in a different way to make ourselves understood. It is kind of like speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the language. Speaking slower and louder won’t help! You have to find a different way to communicate with them – where they are, not where you are.
I remember my mom telling me about how difficult it was for her with my grandfather helping her with math when she was growing up. He was a biochemical engineer and rather brilliant and had a hard time understanding why calculus didn’t come naturally to my mom the same way it did for him. It simply made sense to him while my mom found it a little bit more daunting. Even though my grandfather was excellent in mathematics he couldn’t communicate it to a person at a different level than him. So how do you communicate to others on their own level? Not from a perspective of superiority that you have to ‘come down to their level’ but to have a shared language of communication that you both understand? I think a lot of it comes from either shared experiences or relationship. It takes an investment of time, of querying whether you are on the same page (or sometimes in the same book).
There is a great party game that a friend of ours introduced us to called Catch Phrase. It is a simple game where you select a category and you are given a phrase or name that you have to describe without using the word(s). So you select a category of ‘Art’, for example, and you are given “Mona Lisa”. You then have to get your team to say Mona Lisa. Easy right? (Rembrant of woman with no eybrows) It gets harder and is timed. What is really interesting is playing with my kids where things that would be really easy to explain to one person (like Jailhouse Rock) is a little more difficult to explain to someone who has no idea who Elvis is. What is even more interesting is watching how they explain things that they have no idea what it is. Many times someone can only come up with one way to explain something and then the rest of the round is just arm gesturing! My 10 year old is the rockstar of the game. It is amazing how he can put the clues together better than even most of the adults we have played with. I think with age and knowledge we start to lose our flexibility in both understanding and communication. We communicate in our way instead of the way our target audience needs. We find the pressures of time limiting our creativity in how to be understood so we simply repeat ourselves slower and louder. Albert Einstein said that doing the same thing expecting different results is insanity yet we believe that it is everyone else’s problem. Not ours.
Solving difficult problems is what makes us money in our business. For the most part we have expertise that our customers don’t. That is why they come to us. It is a success to resolve the issue and advise the customer. It is genius when we can make a difficult problem understandable to our customer. Do I get lazy and use jargon to explain something that I know my customers don’t understand? While it may make me feel smart, it doesn’t help them. It is important not to think you are dumbing in down for someone else, but simply putting things into a context that they can relate with and identify with to help them understand. If we can do that then we make ourselves invaluable to our customers. Take the time to understand what their actual problem is and take the time to communicate it. Remember that telling someone something isn’t communicating. The medium for communications is varied. Don’t rely on your favorite medium. Some people like a video, some a verbal discussion, some in writing. Understand what is the best medium for the person you are communicating with and then alter your communications to match wherever possible. You will find yourself much more successful.
I’ll leave you with a quote from George Bernard Shaw – “The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion it has taken place”