When we give information, we do so with the best intentions. Our goal is to present clear and understandable facts that people can ‘get’ and respond accordingly. Yet so often, this doesn’t quite deliver.
Actually, information we give is regularly slightly misunderstood, so this can raise challenges that can lead to mistrust; error and even, in extreme situations, danger too.
It is misunderstood on two counts.
Firstly as we give information, we say what we think is clear and straightforward. But we are giving this information through the lens of our own understanding. And only ours. So the message is our message and no-one else’s.
Secondly and to magnify the slight misunderstanding from our end, the message is heard by someone else - and often many people when we lead a team, each with their own spin on what we say - through their lens too.
It’s a wonder anyone can communicate clearly to any other person! Yet as humans have evolved, they have been able to judge accurately enough most of the time, what is meant when someone communicates with them.
When working with others, it is important for a leader to acknowledge that there is - and always will be - a gap between what message they intend to get across and what is actually taken in by those very people they need to be clear with. In many cases, that message interpretation will be enough. For most people, especially when they know and trust each other well, have an understanding of how better to interpret what the other means and make the right adjustment.
“Oh, he always says that, but this is what he means…”
When a leader is new, or hasn’t developed open, honest and trusting relate ships with their people, the likelihood and depth of misinterpretation increase, leading to a downward spiral of the relationship.
So, what to do?
Firstly, by being aware that messages get misunderstood, deciding to keep messages simple and clear is the most important thing a leader can do. Then, it is vital that they test out the understanding of their message by checking. They can do this be simply asking the recipient to repeat back what they heard and make sure the message is the same. Finally, the message giver can check that the actions taken as a result of the message are consistent with their expectations and if not, review what THEY might have done differently make the outcome closer to what they wanted. Over time, the received message will get nearer and nearer to the given message.
The one giving the message always has the responsibility for this, not the recipient.
Overarching all of this is the need for the relationship between both sides to be open, honest and trusting. For then the dialogue becomes a way of checking and feeding back to ensure the communication is more effective; more consistent and above all, aligned between giver and recipient. And the leader has the responsibility to take actions to create that relationship.
You lead. You know stuff. You need your people to be closely with you.
So, be the one who makes sure that what you say is what is heard, as closely as possible.