We’ve all had those conversations where we think we’ve been crystal clear with a colleague or colleagues and have gotten everyone on the same page, only to find out later that our understanding of what was said doesn’t at all match up with someone else’s. Unfortunately, discovering that often doesn’t happen until after we’ve reckoned with the consequences of the initial miscommunication–a critical missed deadline, a hot sales prospect that fell through the cracks, a coworker who feels insulted and is stoking a major sense of resentment. If you want to get your needs met in the workplace, you have to be strategic and deliberate about your communication. Here are five ways to make yourself better heard and understood.
Assume everyone is distracted.
No matter how much eye contact they’re making, never count on having someone’s undivided attention. If they’re not surreptitiously checking Twitter on their phone to see which public figure is the latest to be outed for sexual harassment, they’re worried about this nagging pain in one of their molars or the fact that their kid has been sent home from kindergarten with a note from the teacher for the third week in a row. Whatever you’re saying may be important, it may even affect them directly, but don’t assume they’re paying rapt attention. Keep your message short, simple and, if there are critical points, reiterate them succinctly before you wrap up your conversation.
Make it relevant to their interests.
Humans are self-interested creatures. Whether we’re explicit about it or not, our minds are always wondering how a particular piece of information affects us. Don’t leave your audience in suspense. Understand what matters to the person you’re communicating with (increasing revenue year-over-year, not having to work backshift on Christmas Eve, looking like a great boss, etc.) and clearly make the linkage between their priorities and what you’re telling them. Make them care by appealing to their own interests.
Be even clearer than you think is necessary.
There is a time to be subtle (when your best friend since sixth grade asks you why she’s still single) and there are times to be direct. At work, you will not get what you don’t ask for. And you need to make that ask as transparent as possible. Discussing all of your accomplishments over the past year and how they’ve benefited the company and sitting back and waiting for your boss to clue in to your value and offer you a raise does not work. Want to lead a new project? Say so. Annoyed that your coworkers are blaring Cardi B while you’re trying to copyedit? Don’t glare. Ask them to turn it down. You need to cut through the haze of distraction and self-absorption we all walk around in like so much cheap cologne. You do that by being clear. And I guarantee that as clear as you think you’re being, you could still be clearer.
Give people something to respond to.
Don’t lead a horse to water, push a glass right across the table and unwrap the straw yourself. If you know how to solve issue X or think the org should be doing Y, say so. Don’t leave things open-ended and subject to endless circular discussions. He who raises a problem better also come bearing suggestions on how to solve it. Give people a proposed course of action to respond to instead of letting them arrive there in their own sweet time. If someone objects, the ball is in their court to counter-propose.