In many small businesses people do a lot of mind reading and guessing. They often wrongly assume they know exactly what someone intends to tell them, when in reality they never get the intended message.
For example, “Tony never gets things right” – you understand every word, but do you get the intended message? You may make an educated guess about what Tony has done this time and you could be wrong. Questions like, “What happened?” or “I’m not sure what’s going on with you and Tony”, will elicit more accurate information. The answers will give clarity and if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, action can be taken.
Just because you and I speak the same language it doesn’t mean we will both attach the same meaning to the words we use. It’s incredibly easy to make wrong assumptions that lead to misunderstanding and bad feelings. If I assume that I understand your motivation and I’m wrong, there is an unspoken miscommunication that will affect how we work together.
A simple but effective technique for avoiding miscommunication is to seek clarification. Try asking; “Let me clarify, I’m not sure I explained well. What did you hear me say?” The valuable feedback you receive will teach you how to be a more effective communicator.
Or in a customer service or sales situation you could ask “Let me see if I understand exactly what you want”. This gives the message that you care about customer satisfaction. Having the skills to check that the intended message is communicated accurately develops a perception of customer care and builds goodwill.
People who know how to ask for clear, specific information build quality relationships with colleagues, business associates and customers. It can also help avoid workplace friction when people are trained to communicate and use unambiguous language in a direct and respectful way.
What you say is important but how you relate is more important – especially in business. People do business with people they like. Research shows they are willing to pay extra for better service. Keeping people informed when there is a problem avoids misunderstandings, retains the good will of most customers and can sometimes elicit creative and innovative solutions.
But indirect communication isn’t just about when we speak – silence is a communication that is also open to misinterpretation. If I send an e-mail and you don’t reply – that is a communication. I may assume it went into your junk mail and resend it. I could think you were too busy to respond, believe you ignored me, or expect you to be in touch later. I will have a real emotional response to my own assumptions and the reaction I have will have an impact on our future relationship.
You can be a great talker and get on famously with customers and suppliers when things are going well. However, if you lack the ability to communicate effectively when you are unhappy about performance or services, your stress levels will go up and your business will suffer.
If you’re not getting the response you want in your business – it could be because you’re not communicating effectively.
Carmel Wynne is from Toastmasters International and based in Dublin. Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations.
For Toastmasters in the UK: www.toastmasters.org.uk
For Toastmasters in Ireland: www.toastmasters.ie