Getting Rid of Communication Static

September 19th, 2011 | Posted in Effectiveness by

If you want to be a fit leader, it’s critical to clearly communicate your messages and ensure those messages are actually heard and understood by others.

In my dealings with employees and colleagues over the years, I’ve discovered a number of strategies leaders can employ to remove ambiguity or “static” from their communications.

After you communicate a point or give an assignment to an employee, you can simply ask, “What questions do you have for me?” Note that this is very different from asking, “Do you understand?”

When you ask people if they understand, it is human nature for them to nod their heads in agreement. After all, most of us want to avoid any possible indication we in fact do not understand or that perhaps we weren’t listening.

This reminds me of an episode from the popular TV series Seinfeld.  Jerry Seinfeld’s friend George Costanza receives a job assignment from his boss, the manager of the New York Yankees.  George is not paying attention and doesn’t have a clue what his boss just asked him to do.

Rather than admitting that he does not understand his assignment, George proceeds to spend all 30 minutes of the episode trying to figure out what his boss expects him to deliver. Of course, in typical Costanza fashion, George fails miserably to deliver the goods at the end of the show.

In a situation like George Costanza’s, I don’t know many leaders who wouldn’t prefer their employees to simply raise their hand right then and there and say, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand what you are asking me to do,” or “I zoned out for a few seconds and I missed the last thing you said. Could you please repeat it?” This allows the manager to restate the assignment and fill in any missing information.

However, it’s difficult for many people to admit that they were not listening or got distracted. That’s why it’s important for you to initiate questions to ensure you have accurately communicated the assignment and that your employee understands it. For example, you might ask, “How do you propose to proceed with this project?” or “What additional resources will you require?” or “What else can I share with you to help you get started?”

Of course, it may take some extra time to ensure your employees understand your messages and assignments from the get-go. But trust me—it’s well worth the investment. After all, you’ll lose a lot more time in the end if the job doesn’t get done, and you’re left picking up the pieces. That’s exactly what miscommunication and misunderstandings will get you.



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