I was at a drive-thru the other day, and when I placed my order I specifically asked for “no cheese” on my chicken wrap. In a crackling voice, my order taker “Sam” repeated back to me “no cheese?” to which I responded “that’s right, no cheese.” I was sure we had this nailed down when, once I was finished my order, Sam summarized and made note of “no cheese on the chicken wrap.” I then proceeded to drive up to the window, paid for and collected my order, and headed down the road.
What do you think I found when I opened up my wrap? That’s right, CHEESE! Despite my best efforts, and what seemed like extensive discussions with Sam around how to prepare my wrap, he (and his fellow sandwich maker) had still failed to deliver a product that I had desired and paid for.
Communication breakdown; it’s everywhere. Even in sectors and industries where ineffective communications can be life threatening (think about fire fighters, police) there are still communication breakdowns, the outcomes of which are considerably more severe than simple indigestion.
The question is why does the quality of communication erode despite often what appear to be our best efforts? Are the most significant contributing factors misinterpretation, simple misunderstandings, or is it becoming more difficult to gain interest (and attention) of other people? The answer is most typically a combination of all of the above. I call this a lack of conscious competence, or LCC for short.
Do you want an example of LCC?
Have you ever had your spouse ask you a question, call you out for not listening, and actually have you repeat it back to them (which you do verbatim), yet you still wind up forgetting to pick something up or put something away? Your mind is elsewhere, you are on autopilot, and that my friends is the risk we take when communicating with those around us – be they peers, employees, spouses or friends.
If you have a message and it is important (and I’m here to tell you that not everything you have to say is important – despite whether you post it on Facebook or not), then you need to break through all of the cacophony that exists in our multimedia driven world today. Curious? Here’s how:
1. Receptivity: How receptive is the other person to your message? Taking out the garbage is something I tend to block from my self-conscious. But if my wife suggests that the garbage needs to be taken out or she will have to start placing bags on top of my snowmobile, then my attention to the matter suddenly shifts. Consider what’s most important to the other person, and intertwine this into your message to ensure you gain their attention. Without their attention you simply won’t be heard.
2. Timing: Your timing is indeed everything. Have some important information to communicate to staff? Do it first thing in the morning when everyone is gearing up for their day and more receptive to information that may impact what they are working on. Want to deliver a “thank-you” or “congratulations” to your team or someone on it? Do it at the end of the day, when spirits are high. Leave your employees feeling good about their work so they actually want to return to their job in the morning (novel idea, I know).
3. Questioning attitude: Having someone simply repeat back what you said will not solidify the message in his or her subconscious. You need to ask questions to make them think about what you said. Let’s go back to my garbage example earlier. Rather than tell me the garbage needs to be taken out, my wife will often ask, “Are you taking the garbage out in the morning before you go to the gym?” There are several positive outcomes to this type of question. She is asking rather than telling (ensuring I am more receptive to her request); and she is suggesting a time that might be convenient that does not impact my schedule. (Yes, she is the brain behind the operation here.) Use questions to ensure your message is heard and retained.
So back to Sam. When I drove up to the window what I should have said was, “Thanks, Sam, for ensuring there is no cheese on my wrap.” – to which he more than likely would have double-checked the order to find out that cheese was inadvertently put on the wrap. So, do yourself, your employees, peers and friends a favor; follow the steps above to ensure your communication captures the attention of others. You will have fewer challenges with communication breakdown, and as a result your stomach will thank you for it.