I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend who had just returned from a kayaking holiday in Vancouver. After an exhausting four days of kayaking she was less than enthusiastic when their guide asked if she’d like to join them for some night-time kayaking as well. She wasn’t too impressed!
It was only when the others returned that she discovered they’d gone kayaking in water that looked like liquid gold. It was full of pyrosomes, translucent sea creatures that glow in the dark. If she’d taken up the offer she’d have found herself dipping her paddles in liquid light.
Why didn’t the tour guide properly explain what was involved, what she would have experienced, how awesome and unique a time it could have been?
Yet isn’t this something many of us do? We know our stuff so well that it’s second-nature to us and so we fail to appreciate that others may not have even a basic level of insight or understanding of what we’re talking about.
It’s not an intentional omission, but simply an oversight based on familiarity, rather than having any malicious or ulterior motive. We may ‘not think’, or don’t want to over-explain and appear condescending or patronising.
I’m guessing many of us will have seen a flyer or poster advertising an event with crucial information missing, like the date or time. The organisers were so familiar with all the details that they become word blind and forgot to step back and double-check. That’s why it’s a good idea to let a relative stranger proof read any copy before the final release.
Here are some tips for when we’re wanting to communicate effectively with others, points to remember when we want to clearly inform them about what’s happening. Whether it’s work or social, business or domestic, in order to avoid confusion or misunderstanding a few ground rules are useful to take on board so that we’re clear and say what’s involved.
- It’s unreasonable to expect others to be psychic and understand what’s in our minds or what we’re trying to say, no matter how closely acquainted we may be. Being clear, especially over something important, demonstrates respect and offers the opportunity for further discussion and clarification, if required. Don’t make assumptions. As with the kayaking trip, a simple question could ascertain what people know and don’t know..
- A little forethought can avoid you sounding superior or condescending. Avoid jargon, industry shorthand or acronyms. Maybe repeat what you have to say, but in a couple of different ways. Then check-in with the other person to ensure that they’re comfortably on board.
- Establish some common ground, so that everyone knows what’s going on and is starting from the same page. It’s important that there’s inclusivity, with everyone’s role being valued, so that they’re clear about the agenda, are up to speed and aware of what’s needing to be discussed.
- Be sensitive. Recognise that you’re adept, perhaps even expert in your field. Equally others could have a high level of competency in their specialism, but relatively little knowledge about yours. When the initial communication is being prompted by you ensure there’s an appreciation of where everyone’s starting from.
- Listen to how the other person responds and is feeling. This can be especially important when we need to ensure that everyone’s being kept up to speed. Be open to discussing their reactions and feedback, so avoiding second-guessing or prejudging their views.
- Don’t treat questions as challenges. It may be that they’re coming at the conversation from a totally different perspective. Being receptive to their input may invite interesting new thoughts and contributions that you’d previously not even considered.
- In a work environment being clear is crucial, as in briefing staff, suppliers and agreeing what customers and clients are wanting. Sometimes an agenda or minutes can be a good way of confirming all the important details.
Two-way channels of communication are a fundamental requirement of good practice in every area of life, so remember to be clear and say what’s involved.
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