- to exchange information
- to convey feeling or thought
- to understand one another
These are just three definitions of the word “communicate”. When you look at the definitions, what comes to mind? Do you know how you communicate? Have you ever really consciously thought about how you communicate? Has a particular way of communicating helped or hurt you? How often do we look at our lives and jobs and assess our communication skills and the effects they have on our relationships, both business and personal?
Types of Communication
- Verbal (oral)
Are you communicating effectively? There are three types of communication, and if people would learn how to distinguish among them and use them effectively I believe many business problems would be solvable. If companies were aligned and had consistent methods of communicating employees would be more effective. I believe we’ve gotten so busy that we just don’t want to make/take the time to speak to someone when an email is so quick. I also believe that the more we communicate in ways that don’t involve our verbal skills, the worse it will get.
Just the Facts, Maam
Let me provide an example of something that happened to me. I sat on a Board of Directors for a non-profit. I was responsible for bringing in speakers for monthly meetings and workshops. I most often dealt directly with the provider. Periodically the speaker would contact me to let me know that they have an assistant who would be communicating with me on their behalf. What I can tell you is there is a certain expectation of how they will communicate with me from the first time we interact.
I made a minor request via email to a speaker I’ll call Janice. I received the response via email from Frank (not his real name) saying that he can imagine it may be strange receiving an email from him in response to the email I’d sent to Janice. Up until this point I’d always dealt with directly with Janice. Frank said he was working for Janice and that, since he was familiar with the material, she’d asked him to follow up with me. He then gave me an inadequate response to the initial email.
How Things Spiral out of Control
I told him that his response wasn’t what I was looking for and he proceeded to send me an email with a number of questions to help him better answer my question. He also left me a voicemail with what I considered to be a nasty and sarcastic tone. Being committed to giving him the benefit of the doubt, I returned his call with no attitude. I might add this wasn’t easy since I was now pissed off. When he answered the phone I still heard attitude and I did what I could to diffuse the situation. I explained that getting an email from him (or anyone else working for Janice) would have left me feeling the same way. It had nothing whatsoever to do with him and everything to do with Janice. I explained that I thought Janice should have responded and told me that someone else would be handling any questions or concerns from this point forward. He blew up at me (maybe he was having a bad day) and I reiterated this was not about him. I think he felt like he was the messenger who was getting shot. I apologized for whatever I’d done to upset him, which caused him to apologize for blowing up at me. We got complete and I clearly explained what I was looking for in the way of an answer to my initial question.
Preventing Problems Save Time and Energy
Some of you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Frank happened to be someone I know, though I had no idea he even worked for Janice. The issue for me was that I had a prior expectation with regard to my relationship with Janice and my expectation was now unmet. Unmet expectations leave people feeling frustrated, angry, not cared for…(fill in the blank with any number of negative adjectives). This situation could have been totally eliminated had Janice just communicated with me.
I will add that I received an email from Janice after Frank shared what I’d said. The gist of her email was that she trusts Frank implicitly and has total confidence that he’d handle my question effectively and efficiently. She wanted to give me a timely response as she has many client demands, which is appropriate. She wanted to know why it was so difficult for me to receive a response from Frank and was now questioning whether she still wanted to do work for us. This, to me, is the most interesting part of the entire interaction. It never even occurred to Janice that she could/should have communicated with me. Nor did she take any accountability for the situation.
Do you think she deals with her other clients this way? I would assert “no”. Why is this any different? Does she see our relationship as providing less value? Was she just being thoughtless? Maybe it’s altogether different.
The moral of my story is that we all need to look at the ways in which we communicate and evaluate if they are suiting us effectively.