The Myth of Communication

By: John Grinnell

Clarity is a thing of management beauty and communication has little if anything to do with it. I know this sounds crazy, but stick with me as I walk you through the logic.

We talk, we write, listen and read. This is what we call communication. We assume the talking and writing we are doing is the most important part of communication—wrong! The most important element is knowing how the other person’s mind is informing them, not you. What you communicate is always filtered through their knowledge, beliefs, bias and past experience. What they hear is what their mind tells them about the words and emotional tone you are using. Metaphorically speaking--this is how people can make a handshake into a cobra and a hug into a wrestling match. With the best of intentions you can be taken wrongly. You can expect a certain response and get the opposite. This is how well intentioned employees can go off and do wrong things undermining organizational efficiency and quality. Communication is a myth because the most important factor and target of the savvy manager is the other person’s “understanding,” not their own communication.

Understanding happens when one person’s mind attunes to the other person’s intent. This doesn’t mean agreement, and often this is the case—but this type of attunement is the basis of an effective conversation, problem solving and real alignment. These are seldom achieved by telling. Understanding takes much more work than that. If you follow the guidelines below you will be able to improve understanding to achieve clarity.

Steps to Achieve Clarity
  • To set the stage for clarity, never ever get mad at someone who brings you a problem. You may ask them to always bring a solution, or help them figure it out…but to get mad only sabotages your units “culture of clarity” as people over-build their minds need to appear smart around you with a background fear of being wrong. If you choose to be openly frustrated by issues brought to you, expect to be mis-understood and more frustrated in the future as clarity will get harder to achieve.
  • Realize understanding takes time and effort. If the issue is of little consequence or correction is easy and doesn’t take much energy—then just tell or email it and correct as you go. On the other hand if there is the possibility of emotion, conflict or a change tied to the information you are conveying, DON’T USE EMAIL!
  • For more significant situations remember that the person will hear what their mind tells them. Do not assume you will achieve understanding by running your mouth.
  • With the first three suggestions in place--talk “with” them (not at them) about your reason for having the conversation. First, tell them the outcome you would like to see. Stop after sharing this and ask the person what they heard and how do they feel about your intention. If they miss the mark, blame your poor communication--not them. Once alignment is achieved with the intent of the conversation then move on to the next step.
  • Now you can begin to run your mouth to share content. Tell them that you assume there will be points in the conversation at which there will be the need further discussion to achieve clarity. A technique as you are going through the content is to occasionally ask them “what’s your reaction to what I am saying?” This is a mind-reading technique that works very well to help you tune-in to them and shape your approach during the conversation.
  • Toward the end of the conversation do a recap. You can politely ask them to summarize the conversation, and further give them encouragement to come to you anytime they are in doubt. Let them know you don’t want to micro-manage but you would like regular reports from them to keep you in the loop. The frequency of reporting-out will vary according to the complexity and consequence of the issue as well as the skill and experience level of the employee.

The thousands of friends of Grinnell Leadership - if you enjoyed this article, I would greatly appreciate you sharing this article on LinkedIn.