Have you ever been asked a question in a meeting and realized that you didn’t completely understand what the person was asking? Think back to your last one-on-one meeting with a peer or manager. Were there any questions that were left unanswered? How about when your boss told you something important, but then she left before giving detailed instructions? These are all examples of poor communication.
Here are some tips to help you break down your communication so that it is better received by stakeholders and peers: William D King
- Who is asking the Question? The first step in understanding any question knows who is asking it. We often think we understand a question when we really don’t because we’re thinking about the context in which the question was asked, rather than what they actually meant when they said it. For example: Have you ever been asked “How long will this take?” when what they were really asking was “When can I expect this done by?” When communicating with someone, listen carefully to their words and how they say them. Body language such as facial expressions and tone of voice can provide valuable input into what they really mean when the words don’t communicate it directly.
- What is the Question? That brings us to the question itself. Ask yourself, “What exactly are they asking?” This sounds pretty straightforward, but you would be surprised at how often people misinterpret this simple step in communication. Let’s go back to the example above about “How long will this take?” Now think about what you could ask in response. Questions like “2 days” or “42 hours” only answer half of the real question because there was no time frame mentioned in what was originally asked. Instead, try rephrasing your understanding of their question and asking for confirmation that you’re on the same page: Are 2-4 days okay? Or does this need to be done sooner?
- If you don’t have a good grasp of what the question is, ask. If someone’s asking a question and it’s not immediately clear to you what they’re asking, speak up! Ask for clarification so that you can gain a better understanding of the topic. This simple step will help make sure that people view your communication as strong and confident, which shows respect for their time and effort.
What is the Context?
When communicating with others, context is extremely important. Without knowing where something came from or where it’s going, we may misinterpret information and jump to faulty conclusions. For example, Your manager tells you that she needs an update on how things are going with customer relations at your company.
You assume she means all of your customers and you give her a detailed report on everything happening today. But she’s actually talking about the complaints coming in from multiple locations at one specific customer, such as an office or restaurant.
You can prevent these types of misunderstandings by asking questions like: What exactly do you need to know? Or what would be most helpful for you? This will help clarify whether they’re looking for general information, short-term updates, long-term trends, etc.
Figuring out the context of a question is much easier when we ask clarifying questions or if we rephrase what we think someone said to what they really meant so that it aligns with their original statement.
How do they communicate?
We communicate so many things through our words, but often there are other ways people are trying to communicate with us. Paying attention to subtle clues can improve your communication skills so that you pick up on the true meaning behind someone’s words. This means not just listening to what they’re saying, but also looking at their facial expressions and paying attention to different tones of voice or inflections in speech.
After you’ve done all this, how do we keep track of it? Whether we’re communicating face-to-face or via email and phone, documenting what was communicated is a must. Keep a running list like: “John said he wants updates every day.” You’ll be surprised how useful these notes will be when you make assumptions about something someone else said and they’re not what you thought.
A lot of times we think we know what someone else is saying, but we miss the mark or flat-out get it wrong. Taking a second to go through these four steps before responding can make all the difference when communicating with others: What exactly are they asking?
Are 2-4 days okay? Or does this need to be done sooner? When communicating with people, ask clarifying questions until you understand their questions in their entirety. Pay close attention to context when trying to figure out what someone else is really saying. Communicate deliberately and pay attention to subtle hints in body language and speech patterns in order to avoid miscommunication.
Conclusion by William D King:
Communication is one of the most important aspects of human interaction. Making a point to step back and consider what you’re communicating before responding will help you improve your relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.