+Scott Watson

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Clarify, Clarify, Clarify - Stop Communication Getting Fuzzy

We probably all agree that we could all communicate more effectively, don't we? Yes, I thought so...Great minds think alike (and fools seldom differ - as my mother used to say). But seriously, many of the projects that my company are invited to contribute to are little to do with corporate stratedy, vision, mission and such like. They are more to do with enhancing trust, collaboration, joined up thinking and that old chestnut - communication.

Get it wrong and problems galore are likely to occur. Get it right, and problems still appear, but far fewer than could be expected and they are often far easier to overcome. An absence of clarity in any dialogue can cause problems and misunderstanding. Think about this one. If I say to you 'Speaking to you as an intelligent person.....' who is the supposed 'intelligent person'? Oh, sorry, you thought I meant you! No, no no, I meant me all along. OK, this is a light hearted example, but do you see how the words we use either help us or hinder us?

Just yesterday I was at the golf range disappointing myself yet again with a few poor shots one after the other, when a well-meaning golf instructor from the club stopped and said 'What you need to do is stop snapping at the ball. He continued 'The angle of your right arm is out of kilter with where it should be, so try to get it aligned.'

Righty, me being an information detective (but only because I wish to learn, not to be a pain in the neck, or other body part), politely thanked him for his 'help' and asked the following questions in quick succession.

Could you help me understand what you mean by 'snapping at the ball'? He replied that my angle of approach from the top of my swing made it likely that 'the club would have to recover too much ground' for it to hit the ball 'sweetly'. What the heck is 'sweetly'? I can guess, but in the workplace, guessing can get us in to lots of trouble - as you may know already.

He went on to describe in fine detail (having taken my club from me) what HE MEANT. Not that I was understanding much of it. My own instructor gives me a few pieces of information, asks me to clarify my understanding of his instruction and then invites me to have a go at applying the learning. It works for me, it's how I like to learn. And this well meaning instructor was clouding my understanding rather than helping me. I guessed that what he meant by 'out of kilter' was that my arms or body or club position weren't where they really should be to hit a good shot...what is a 'good shot'? Anyway, we never got on to define 'sweetly' and I doubt we'll keep in touch. But can you see how language gets lost all too easily in any situation?

Here are a few questions you can ask to clarify your understanding. I call it the precision model, and it's extremely effective when applied with the right personal impact and the questions are asked as part of a discussion - rather than as part of an interrogation. The purpose of the questions is to help the other party really think more deeply about their communication, beliefs and generalisations. In communication, close isn't always close enough. We need to be right on the button, not somewhere nearby.


How do you know that? (to be true/accurate/the right way to go)

This questions asks for FACTS and removes the possibility of making a decision based on a belief. For example, 'Children have no respect for their parents these days'. 'Oh, how do you know that to be true? Do you mean ALL children, or just some?' They may respond with something like 'Of course I didn't mean ALL children. It's just the kid next door.' See how this has changed from a global belief to an individual?

According to whom? This question asks for names to support a statement, comparison or judgement. For example 'This is the right/besy way to go on this project.' 'According to whom? Who has made the decision that THIS is the BEST/RIGHT way to go on this project?' This can then then develop understanding from which you can continue the dialogue with more clarity.

Compared to what? This question helps when dealing with comparisons. This is best/worst. I'll let you think about where you can use this question and what information you can gather with it.

What precisely do you mean when you say (This is a disaster/is unacceptable)?
The other party will be compelled and possibly obliged to start sharing specific information with you about specific points of contention, upset and annoyance. And when they've provided the specifics, you are then able to respond to them one at a time with clarity, rather than guessing and not addressing the key points they value most.

May I just clarify my understanding of what you just stated/said? This question is self-explanatory and provides you with the opportunity to demonstrate you have not only listened, but also understood the other person. It can't end there though by simply repeating words and understanding back to them - it needs to evolve in to what actions will be taken to fix the problem/move the project on in a worthwhile manner.

Use these questions for 10 days in the workplace and let me know your results.

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