“I urge you to please notice when you’re happy … and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
Stop, Collaborate, and Listen.
We chose happiness, we chose a positive frame of mind, we chose to see the best in one another… we have a choice. Sometimes those choices are hard. As intended or as perceived … it’s a central question in all human interactions. Which is the dominant frame of reference for you? When we perceive that a colleague has communicated or done something that is negative, do you react with vengeance or do you ask them what did you mean by that? Or why did you do that?
How many times have you spoken with a colleague and they took what you said all wrong, not as you intended but quite the opposite? Think about that for a second, you made a well-intentioned comment, but the other person’s frame of reference caused them to hear your comment very differently… Happened to you before? It’s the basis of a lot of human conflict and comedy. Watching two people speaking past each other is the basis for many great dramas and comedy skits… “Who’s on first?”
I have a few tips to share about how to improve the quality of your communication and hopefully reduce the number of times you find yourself in an unintended miscommunication.
1. Assume the best in your colleagues, we are a company full of smart and happy people. If you start with this frame of reference the likelihood of miscommunication declines dramatically.
2. “Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood” – Steven Covey. Ask why and listen, really listen to what your colleague intended to communicate. Often, conversations are really two people waiting for each other to finish so they can make their point. That’s not listening and rarely leads to resolution.
3. Emails don’t convey tone very well. If you receive an email from one of your colleagues that triggers you, remember that it’s probably better to pick up the phone and apply tips 1 and 2. Sorting out miscommunications over email or worse yet exchanging hostile emails almost never has a good outcome.
4. My mom always used to say if you respect someone, it means that you frequently re-look at your underlying assumptions about that person. For example, a colleague could be working hard to reply to emails quickly or be more attentive in meetings but because your underlying assumption is that they are always late, you won’t recognize they are working hard on making a change. Your frame of reference about your colleague is the lens that you’ll use to interpret their communication, make sure you’re up to date.
5. A quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf”. When being interviewed about her long and successful marriage, she said, “On the day I was married, my mother-in-law, took me aside and said she wanted to tell me what was the secret of a happy marriage.” Not every slight needs to be prosecuted or understood, oftentimes it’s better to let things slide and just choose to hear the best in what your colleague said to you.
Remember all communication is a choice. A choice about what you communicate and a choice about how you interpret the communication. Choose happiness and to see the best in each other.
Let’s go be great!