Poor communication is one of the most common reasons for mistrust on teams, and a leading contributor to poor results. Poor communication slows the team down, produces sub-optimal decision making, creates frustration and disengagement, and leads us to question each other’s motivation.
The chief challenge is most people think they are above average communicators, which leads to teams and organizations getting stuck. One study asked 8,000 people across a variety of industries to rate their communication skills compared to others. Virtually all of them said their communication was more effective than their co-workers! The math does not work – we cannot all be better than average!
Other studies have shown that after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener only retains 25 percent of what they hear. That means there are close to zero conversations where we are both walking away with a complete understanding of each other!
Take 100% Responsibility for your communication
All the research validates that human beings have a massive blind spot when it comes to communication. This is one reason we tend to blame others for poor communication rather than taking steps to improve our own communication. After all, it is so much easier to blame someone else for not sharing important details than to take ownership for the fact I did not ask better questions.
The problem is every time I blame others and make excuses for poor communication I engage in “prison thinking”, and it always leads to getting stuck. Change starts with me acknowledging that I am part of the problem and taking responsibility for my part. It means asking myself, “What am I going to do about it?” Ownership moves us to action, and action leads to change.
Practice the art of asking questions
Active listening is one of the most important ways we communicate we value others. It is also the only way to really understand others – not just their words, but the meaning they are trying to convey. The most direct path to becoming a better listener is practicing the discipline of asking more questions. Be curious. Asking open-ended, clarifying questions forces you to listen. It also invites people to answer expansively, which helps ensure mutual understanding and shared meaning.
Replay what you hear to confirm understanding
The discipline of replaying important conversations will drive improvements in every other aspect of your communication. Holding yourself accountable to replaying a conversation forces you to listen better. It also provides an important validation that we have a mutual understanding of each other. I cannot count how many times I have replayed a conversation only to discover I missed some important points. A simple recap creates a much-needed opportunity to clean up any gaps in understanding.
Memorialize important conversations
This is a form of replaying what you hear. However, it is also a nod to the fact our memories are not all that great. A former pastor used to say, “The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.” So true! At Team Trek, we summarize in writing the outcomes of meetings to avoid having to revisit conversations. Repeatedly rehashing conversations is a huge time waster and only leads to frustration and disengagement.
Answer key questions: who, what, where, when, why and how?
This one is simple but powerful. When decisions are made, be sure you know who is doing what and when. And don’t forget the “why”. The why – the purpose behind the decision – is what empowers the team to adjust as conditions change. It is the equivalent of the commander’s intent.
Have zero tolerance for fuzzy commitments
Fuzzy commitments are culture killers. They almost always lead to a misunderstanding, which produces mistrust. How do you recognize a fuzzy commitment? Look for hedge words like “try”, “maybe” or “soon”. We use those hedge words to give ourselves an out or to avoid saying “no” to someone. However, we do so at our own peril. Refusing to make or accept fuzzy commitments forces us to face conflict head on and ensures we are walking away with the same expectations.
Communicate frequently about important topics
No plan survives contact. Change should be expected. Have a plan for how you are going to communicate status updates and changes. Rarely is it the change itself that creates mistrust, but rather finding out well after the fact that the team is off course. Communicating frequently ensures everyone is up to speed and provides an opportunity for people to have a voice in how we are navigating those changes.
Pick one of these areas to work on and practice it deeply until you have mastered it. Then move on to another area. You will benefit personally from increased trust in your key relationships. Your team will benefit as well. Effective communication takes work, but the pay-off is considerable.
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