This is a guest post by Karen Kwong. Through Ren Organisational Consulting Ltd (RenOC), Karen has helped many business professionals and organizations improve their performance and attain success. We're excited to share her expert insight with you.
Are you making yourself clear and does your team really understand you?
How many times have you been in an argument or observed one where someone says, ‘Fine!’ and the response is, ‘Fine!’ knowing full well that the two ‘Fines’ are clearly not fine? Have you asked someone to perform a task urgently, and then this task is done a week later, apparently in an ‘urgent’ manner?
English is the third most spoken first language in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. It is the most widely used second language in international communications, especially in business. Most people who speak English, either as a first or second language, would argue that they speak it almost fluently and understand it well enough to perform competently at work. And yet, miscommunication and misunderstanding through vocabulary is often one of the key reasons for seemingly sub-standard or unfathomable work, plans going awry, or worse, endless conflict within an organization, amongst many other negative outcomes.
There are numerous articles, books and seminars on being an effective leader. Most agree upon a number of key attributes such as vision, passion, decision making, strategic, a team player etc. However, it can be argued that if a leader cannot communicate simply and clearly, all the vision and passion in the world is not going to keep his/her employees engaged and motivated, nor will the business’s clients effectively hear the company’s message.
Active listening is required to truly engage and connect with the other parties. Unlike face-to-face meetings, remote working is not always able to include the usual social cues, such as facial expression, to guide those conversations better. Equally, when speaking to convey your message, much could be lost in translation, especially if the audience is not in the same room as you are, let alone on the same wavelength as you are. This could really adversely affect your team’s performance, as well as the productivity of your organization.
A is giving B feedback during a performance appraisal. Whilst discussing a particular item for feedback and forthcoming objectives:
A: I’d like you to show more flexibility in your approach to your work and team. To date, your work has been very good, but you tend the follow the same approaches each time. It would be helpful for you to exercise some flexibility.
B: What do you mean ‘be more flexible?’
A: Well, for example, you tend to leave work at the same time everyday, irrelevant of the requirements of the day and the demands of the client. It would be helpful for you to consider the general requirements of the team and/or work before choosing whichever path you feel most appropriate.
From then on, B left work 5 minutes later everyday. Nothing else changed in his work performance (although it was already at a high standard).
Good communication has to be simple, clear and direct. It may vary slightly in tone because of emotions, but it should never be confusing. In this scenario, A was being as direct as possible, and yet, A’s interpretation of ‘be more flexible’ was clearly not the same as B’s. A was being as clear as A thought was possible, and B thought they received A’s message clearly.
So what can you do to reduce miscommunication during significant conversations?
Use Simple and Plain Words
Use basic words that do not require interpretation or reinterpretation. If required, elaborate by giving more than one example, whilst keeping the language as simple and clear as possible. In addition, try not to use slang, expressions or jokes. You may think these may serve as an icebreaker, but they may merely end up confusing your colleagues. They may even leave thinking about your bad joke and not your message.
Additionally, plain and uncomplicated language will overcome a very long list of potential barriers to understanding, which include cultural, industry, ethnic, age, and gender influences. When an English person suggests that they were ‘rather disappointed’ in something, it usually means that they were very unhappy and hugely disappointed in that something!
Ensure that you are clear in your own mind with the message that you want to convey before entering into the conversation. If you are not crystal clear or convinced of your mission or objective, how can you hope to be able to convey that to others? Often, you may think that you have a clear objective, but assumptions, stress and irrelevant information frequently serve to muddy those waters.
Courtesy vs. Confusion
There is huge benefit on focusing on how a message is delivered. An Irish lady once asked me why a Chinese lady was shouting at me five minutes earlier. I was really confused for I did not recall anyone shouting at me (at least that day). Looking back, I worked out that the Chinese lady was merely telling me a story in Cantonese, but Cantonese, and most other Chinese dialects for that matter, can appear aggressive and abrupt in tone. The tone in which a message is communicated could really affect how and what the recipient takes away from the conversation.
Equally, if one is attempting to send a message of disappointment, it may be tempting to offer it up peppered with much ‘lovely’ language. This will merely confuse the recipient and worse still, present you as being disingenuous.
Be Present in the Conversation
It is very difficult to be part of a conversation without drawing previous interactions, others’ opinions, and seemingly relevant information into it. But by truly participating in the conversation through active listening, both parties will have a better sense of what they understand and require of each other. Additionally, don’t check your email or phone during these chats. Really try and resist the temptation, so you can come away with a much clearer and more constructive conversation.
To ensure that both parties fully understand each other at the end of the conversation, it is a worthwhile discipline, no matter how brief, to recap the conversation, going over discussed points. It will clarify the minds of both parties and raise any potential issues of misunderstanding.
Nobody said that it would be easy, and it is proven that poor communication remains one of the biggest causes of conflict, misunderstanding, and poor performance within organisations and with clients. However, with a little bit of self-awareness alongside much careful thought, planning, and discipline, things could look a lot brighter!
There is so much more to add to this subject, and I would really welcome any comments, thoughts and feedback for further discussion.
About the Author
Karen Kwong is the founder of Ren Organisational Consulting Ltd (RenOC) based in London. RenOC was founded in 2013 by Karen who, having spent 15 years at a senior level in the financial industry, decided to focus upon those aspects of her career that she found most rewarding – getting the best out of people. RenOC combines very real experience and knowledge together with psychology-based studies to help individuals take their performance to higher levels and for organisations to be a great success. Karen’s totally unique offering lies in combining her vast experience in dealing with very real high-level organisational and business issues. Her clients include individuals and organisations in financial services, engineering, project management and PR & communications. Karen is also on the Board of Trustees for the Shackleton Foundation, a seed funding type charity supporting early stage social enterpreneurs and charities focusing on youth.
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