Communicating Effectively: Learning to “Fill in the Blanks”

Communication, both effective and ineffective, makes the world go 'round. Yet it's the quality of our interactions or how well we hear, interpret and understand what is being said that truly defines the relationships we have every day. Employees, vendors, customers, trusted advisors even family members and friends build relationships on these interactions. As leaders, many of us have had the occasion to wonder why our instructions weren't followed or how something so simple could be misinterpreted. Whether it's between superiors, colleagues, or even friends when communication breaks down it can be frustrating.

Communication Blunders
What causes communication breakdown? In some cases, we assume that others know exactly what we mean when we speak without taking the time to clarify. Sometimes we don't communicate enough and those around us are forced to add their own beliefs, values, and personal realities to where we left ambiguity. As unintended consequence folks often jump to conclusions leaving you to scratch your head wondering how they were able to get from point A to point B.

Without Clarity, We Leave Important Things to Hope
How many times have you said to yourself "I didn't say that" or "That's not what I meant"? The truth is without clarity we are leaving many important things to hope, expecting and anticipating that everyone will simply know what it is that we are saying. It's important to over-communicate to reinforce and restate the obvious through dialog that everyone understands. Clarify! Clarify! Clarify!

Behavior and Actions Reinforce or Diminish Spoken Word
One of the biggest challenges facing leaders today is being misunderstood. Conversations take place every day both personally and professionally that involve misunderstanding leading to hurt feelings, mistrust, and unclear direction. Through non-verbal communication like facial expressions, body language even attitude we contribute to a message. In many cases, these non-verbal cues speak louder than the spoken word reinforcing or diminishing what we say.

A Lack of Understanding Leads to the Path of Least Resistance
In most situations when folks are unclear about a message they are receiving whether it's fulfilling an objective or understanding a loved one's concern, they take the path of least resistance. They fill in the blanks according to their own views, values, and objectives. Unfortunately, this is rarely in the best interest of the business, the relationship, or even them personally. Politicians may be the best at using words to say next to nothing but as leaders, managers, and executive decisions makers, we depend on our words to guide our team in making the right choices. Improving communication to be more effective involves "filling in" your own blanks. Never assume that someone else "gets it" or hears what you are actually saying. Remember to clarify everything you say and be aware of how non-verbal cues may be distracting from your intended message. The more we tell it like it is with clarity, directness, and sensitivity the more likely we are to be effective with mutual respect and understanding in both our personal and professional relationships.