When it comes to communicating, it’s fabulous when the flow of questions and answers is automatic. Yet we all know how miscommunication, ambiguous conversation and unclear phrasing can jam up constructive discussions.
I was recently reminded how easy it is to slip into interaction quicksand when information sharing is inadequate, particularly when using email. Not long ago, a seemingly simple email was understood by four of the five recipients. Ah yes, person number five. Instead of a two-email exchange, it turned into eight messages. In the middle of this exchange I realized that there are important, mutually supportive skills for sharing information — if we remember to use them. Here are seven skills that can help you be a savvy communicator.
1. Focus on the Problem, Not the Person
Do you work with a challenging teammate or use a process that prevents progress? Although your colleague may be an okay person, he or she may not be in the proper role, or might lack training, which can hinder accomplishing goals. Depending on the situation, try providing them with details that will help them help you.
Better yet, focus on the problem or the process, not the interaction. Create a high-level bond with your associate by making it your common goal to solve a problem or improve a process. Ask for their thoughts as to the best way to approach something, then share yours. Switching the dialogue to a mutual problem-solving purpose rather than an “I’m right, you’re wrong,” encounter makes for good mojo. Focus on collaboratively overcoming the problem, not the person.
2. Pick Up the Phone
Emailing and texting are much easier than picking up the phone, right? Wrong. At least part of the time. When email is done right, it’s an effective way to engage and complete tasks. But there are exceptions. What about the email exchange that doesn’t end? Is there email confusion, or someone who isn’t getting the messages? Don’t let email make you lazy; put the Rule of Three into play. After the third email, pick up the phone. Once the conversation has concluded, don’t leave memory to chance. Put your thoughts in writing and copy those involved. Done.
3. Leave Emotion Out
While email is efficient, it also can bring entrapments. The biggest offender is emotion, for senders and recipients — for example, making an erroneous interpretation of an email you receive, or being overly expressive on one you send, can inflict even more harm. Consider the message content from a neutral point of view. Don’t guess others’ intentions. Should you become upset and write a response charged with reactionary rhetoric, don’t send it. Email is essentially forever. If you must vent only, write your email offline and delete it without sending. If the issue merits documenting, simply share the facts, be professional and leave out the emotion.
4. Check Your Work
We’re all multitaskers these days, pressured to perform faster and deliver more with fewer people to help. If we make a mistake, we burn precious time correcting it, so don’t send an email with misspellings or generate a document containing errors. Proofread and double-check your work. An occasional error is being human, but pushing work out the door too soon is unprofessional. Have you ever sent an email with confidential content to the wrong customer? Double-check email addresses, as well as the message text.
5. When in Doubt, Wait
Not sure how to respond to something because you may have misinterpreted a message? Worried that a comment you made might have been received the wrong way and you want to fix it? When in doubt, wait. Assuming there isn’t a time-sensitive deadline, and immediate offense or a simple correction involved, waiting has wonderful side benefits. It allows you to think things through with a clearer head, step back from the worry of the moment and look at the facts, not assumptions you may have. The world has a way of putting the best option in front of you when you give it a chance and open yourself up to receive it. Wait, think, and then act if need be.
6. The Other Person’s Point of View
How many times have you assumed that you know what someone is thinking or you have no doubt your follow-on action is optimal? You may be right — or wrong. As you finish your work and hit a snag or feel frustration creeping in, put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Genuinely consider their point of view. If in doubt, ask. Ask about their concerns, limitations, expectations, priorities. Once you hear where they’re coming from, you may be startled by how far off or how aligned you are. Also, you’ll have a better sense of the more collegial way to proceed.
7. Avoid Office Jerks
There are instances where an office jerk is involved, and the skills I’ve just mentioned may not help. We all know who this is — the boss’s buddy, the owner’s relative, the self-anointed smartest schmo. The negative impact this person can have on you and co-workers is widely known. What to do? Concentrate on what you control.
If you toil with an individual who is condescending, manipulative or self-oriented, contemplate ways to get around them. At the very least, minimize your interaction with them. Avoid being sucked into encounters where you feel frustrated or foiled. Plan to mentally get ahead of your feelings by managing what you control. Keep exchanges with these people brief, on topic and in a place where you can exit quickly.
These seven skills for communicating are a few of my favorites from an array of options. I’m certain you have your favorites, too. Apply them on a situationally relevant level to derive the greatest benefits. When you incorporate these approaches into your professional and personal lives, communication moves efficiently with less effort, more enjoyment and better end results.
Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.