A Failure to Communicate: Working on Getting Your Message Across


One of the traits that sets humans apart from the rest of Creation is our ability to communicate in great detail, with a minimum of confusion and unproductive “noise.”

Still, we fail to communicate unusually often. The annals of history contain endless episodes of poor communication (or a complete lack thereof), leading to widespread misery and pain.

On a lesser scale, individuals and businesses deal with miscommunication issues every single day; in the workplace, these breakdowns can have an impact not just on individual productivity, but also on the bottom line.

Even minor miscommunications can prove costly.

A crucial productivity tool

For example: I once worked with a corporate president who called an analyst in finance to get a figure to put into a speech he was planning. The president expected the finance guy to spend 15 minutes on a rough estimate; all he wanted was a high-level guess. Instead, the man spent 10 hours calculating an exact figure.

Who was at fault here? Both of them.

The president should have said, “I’m looking for this kind of number, and thinking it’ll take you 15 minutes or so to ballpark it, plus or minus a few million dollars. Does that sound reasonable?” The finance person could have said, “I can get you that figure — and it will take me (this) long—is that what you want?” The president could have then decided whether or not it was worth the effort.

Clearly, your ability to communicate well represents a crucial productivity tool, especially in terms of how you word your communications and how aggressive you are in expressing your needs and requirements.

Communicating with a minimum of noise

Even when you keep the lines of communication wide open, time-wasters like beating around the bush, phrasing your message in obscure terms, or burying your request in unnecessary verbiage can cause confusion and irritation. At best, this slows others down; at worst, people may ignore you. Either outcome damages productivity, both yours and theirs.

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Therefore, whether communicating with employees or superiors, make every effort to get your point across with a minimum of noise. Choose your words with care, saying precisely what you mean, as directly as possible.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone who rambled, or danced around a subject? Maybe he was afraid you’d get angry if he came right out and said what he was thinking; maybe he wanted attention; or maybe he just liked to listen to himself talk. Whatever the reason, he wasted your time and his by not getting straight to the point. You don’t want to do this to other people, so make your communications concise without being rude.

Think about what you want to achieve

If you have a hard time with that, practice what you want to say in advance. Take a results-oriented stance, envisioning precisely what you want to achieve. Then edit your message toward that end to make it plain and specific. Tweak it to avoid sounding brusque, then deliver it assertively, as simply as possible.

This will also help you avoid unnecessary qualifiers and hedging — the “what if’s,” “maybe’s,” and “could be’s” that hem in so much of our daily communication, often to the extent that we lose what we really want to say.

Accountability action step: Directness is essential when asking for information or giving instructions. Take charge, choose the right words, and make your requirements absolutely clear. Workplace communication should be as unambiguous as humanly possible.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.


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