The path to clear and concise communication.
It’s amazing how easy miscommunication occur, right? And they happen more and more these days and there are plenty of reasons why, what with technology allowing us to connect with people anywhere in the world, the general busy-ness of life, and so many technologies changing and reshaping the way we think (then changing again the moment we get a handle on it).
Miscommunication can cause all kinds of things, bad feelings between people that misunderstand each other and find something offensive that wasn’t intended as such, loss of time because something gets messed up and has to be redone, or takes longer to do, and then there is just getting a totally different outcome to the one you had in mind due to miscommunication.
I have seen good people who were friends in business have complete relationship breakdowns because of poor communication, I have dealt with a supplier in my other business whose communication was so bad I was forced to cut ties and drop the product, and I myself have experienced miscommunication with someone that was once a friend and took something I said the wrong way and ran with it headfirst into a torrent of hate, though I could write another blog on what true friendship really means (hint, it isn’t that) but that’s not what I am here for.
I studied Mass Communication at Uni and it’s an interesting little (well, not that little) subject. Coupled with some elective philosophy units, I actually learned a lot of cool stuff that is actually useful in the real world! And to downfall of the people around me, often my poor family, it taught me some extremely good argument skills (insert your own version of an evil laugh). But whilst studying the slippery slope effect in a philosophy class I realised that these principles with weird names were actually helping me write great essays that got great marks, and in turn helped me write great marketing material and reports and presentations in my work (I worked full time and went to uni part time). As I went on to then begin to run my own business, I was able to apply some of these principles to my business dealings, to my advantage, in particular with communicating with clients, suppliers, contractors and other businesses.
So I am going to share some tips with you all. You might read them and pronounce that none of it is rocket science. Correct. I was never that great at maths, so I would never have survived a degree in rocket science in a pink fit… it’s my sister than got a master degree in maths and owns a binary watch, not me. You might read them though and realise that whilst it is all common sense, you might be in a bit too much of a rush or be a bit too busy to be taking the time to follow some of these guides. If all this blog does is give you a little reminder of what you probably already know, then I have achieved my goal. No need to send flowers.
Tip # 1. Give all the information at the one time.
Having spent a lot of years doing graphic design work, I find people tend to trickle information in piece by piece and when they do, I give them the analogy of this. ‘You are asking me to bake you a cake but you have only so far given me half of the ingredients and you can’t tell me what the rest of the ingredients will be.’ So if you are asking someone to do something for you, whether it’s design a website, book a room, pick something up for you, give them everything they need in the one communication. There is nothing more confusing than getting five emails about one thing, each one adding a new piece of information.
Slow down! Have the patience to collect all the information you need to give to the person and send it to them all at once. If you are getting the information yourself in bits and pieces, make a note somewhere of everything as you get it, I personally use email drafts to do this but you find your own best practice method and run with that. It’s o ne thing to be excited about a new project or task, but it’s another to bombard the person at the other end with 20 emails all relating to that one task, in a bit of a ‘streaming consciousness’ ramble. I learned steaming consciousness writing in uni as well, it was never recommended for business use, it’s for highly creative writing for quite specific genres, and business never came into it.
Tip # 2. Share the plan.
When you are communicating with others in a collaborative business sense, you need to tell them what the outcome you are heading for is. If your sole aim for the thing you are discussing is to reach a certain goal, share that goal so the person at the other end also gets where you are heading. For example ‘I need this xyz so I can do this xyz’ that kind of explanation. It means that the person you are communicating in will feel more included and people that feel more included tend to feel more inclined to be more helpful, and it also means that the person has a better understanding of where you are coming from. It may be that they have something extra they can help you with, some extra piece of information, something else they can do, a lead of a contact that might help you.
Tip # 3. Give the plan a timeframe.
Your expectation of ‘asap’ and mine might be totally different, there is no defined amount of time asap takes. So if you want a reply, some work done, a quote, a delivery or whatever by a certain date, say that date! I can’t get over how many people comment to me about someone taking too long to do something, then I ask, ‘did you say when you needed it?’ and they say ‘no, I just said asap’. So create a realistic timeframe for things and make them clear. Check with the person if you need be. ‘Is it possible to have this answer by xyz?, or have this task done by xyz?’ it can pay to ask so everyone knows when things need to be done by.
Tips # 4. Talk about the uncomfortable stuff ($) up front.
I have seen more than one occasion of really smart business people getting caught up in a crappy situation because there had not been enough discussion up front about money. It can make people really uncomfortable. Society has ingrained a phobia in many people about discussing money, from being told it’s rude to ask someone how much something cost them, or how much they earn, as a child and even in our teens, typically, we were hushed if that kind of thing came up outside of the family walls. I am generalising here of course, but in general, many people find discussing money uncomfortable. So they avoid it. They hope the other party will do the right thing and charge the right amount, or share the money fairly, or wait until the work is done and then try and discuss it too late, when there are already bad feelings. Go into any situation knowing how much it is going to cost you, or how much you are going to make. Some things are variable I know, but know the variables!
Tips # 5. Don’t assume ANYTHING!
It seems obvious, but how many times have you got caught with something and said to someone “I assumed he was going to do that, or I assumed that was included in the price”? People do it to themselves over and over again, and it almost amuses me to see people vent about this kind of thing on social media where it seems clear they made an assumption without checking the facts but can’t accept that it was just a lack of communication that caused their distress. It’s just another essential element of communication, to not assume anything. So even if you ‘think’ something is going to happen, or cost a certain amount, or be ready by a certain time, ask the question, clarify the answer if you don’t understand, so you are not filling in the gaps in information with guesses! Without all the information the other person/business has, you may be guessing in the totally wrong direction if you start to assume things.
The reality is, we all communicate in different ways and we all retain information in different ways. Some people need to talk on the phone to clarify things, I need to see things in an email, others need to meet face to face or on video calls. Think about yourself and how you retain information best, and be mindful of that when you are communicating with others. In business, it pays to have really important things in writing, if only an email with dot points to confirm a phone conversation (for instance, we finish our call, you email me to confirm what we spoke about and clarify anything that needed to be clarified). Clear communication cannot be rushed if you want to do it properly, you need to make the time to slow down and give the communication the proper attention. Flicking people an email is a term we hear a lot these days, but lets flick them slowly, with thought, and just one email not 10… (Side note, isn’t it funny how 20 years ago we waited and waited for an email to appear in our inbox and actually thought up ways to ensure we got another email soon, yet these days people get swamped with emails and sometimes drown in them?).