They Just Don't Get It: Communicating In The Workplace

July 9, 2013
by Ernie Mendes

Miscommunication can result in unproductive behaviors, such as a missed deadline, a lack of understanding by another division, or the perception of a hidden agenda. Under pressure it is easy to blame the receiver of our message for not getting it. But how effective is blame? Does it get a change in behavior, attitude, or performance? If so, keep it up. If not, consider the following ideas.

Our communication is the response we get back–this is an operating belief I like to keep in mind. If someone doesn't get it, then I must not have communicated effectively. Period. So, I take responsibility for adjusting the communication to increase the likelihood that the receiver gets it. I can check for understanding by asking the person to explain back what I just said (to make sure I communicated correctly). I want to make sure I got across my three points accurately, would you mind telling me back what they were? When someone else is in the sender's role, I ask clarifying questions to make sure I understand correctly and then end with a paraphrase or summary of what I heard. I end with the question, Did I get that right? or Did I understand that correctly?

As a sender, I can ask people what the best way is to communicate information with them. I want to write that down and consider it when communicating.

If I am sending out important information, I need to know, Did I use the preferred modality for communciating with that person? We tend to have preferences for receiving information. Visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. For example, maybe I sent an email (knowing they have a visual preference) but because they are flooded with emails maybe they only prioritize them if they hear a voicemail or in conversation (auditory), so I would need to follow-up with a quick voicemail too. Or perhaps they need to experience it hands-on (kinesthetic) to get the communication, so I would stop over at their station to deliver the information in person.

Pay attention to the predicates a person uses in their communication. They may say, It's clear to me; I see what you mean; I can picture that; I'm fuzzy on your idea, these are examples of the visual modality. I hear you; It sounds like; Clear as a bell; You are saying, are auditory predicates. I get it; I'm going by the seat of my pants; Move on it; Wait; Where are we going with this? are kinesthetic representations. Listen, then match them in your verbal or written messages to that person.

Is there an emotional overload? When emotions such as anxiety, fear, worry, or anger are in play they can shut down cognitive processes that allow us to hold and interpret information in working memory and then later store it in long-term memory. If you start to notice a regular pattern of unresponsiveness, you might want to check in with the person, to see what's up. Their cup is probably full mentally or emotionally, and you may need to help empty some of the contents so that there is room for cognitive processing. Clear the air, so that they are motivated to respond to you.

There are many parts to the communicating-at-work puzzle and that's why three of my courses at Rady explore this topic: Effective Communication at Work is the nuts and bolts of verbal and nonverbal communication, including rapport building and the power of direct and indirect communication. Managing Difficult Conversations gets at the way to set a context to have a challenging conversation and includes two models of how to clear the air with anyone and also how to give constructive feedback as a supervisor. Managing High Performing Teams gets at the role of emotions, and the role of four key brain systems to engage team members and build trust on teams.

Dr. Ernie Mendes has been providing professional development since 1988. He presents locally, regionally, and nationally. He is an author, licensed psychotherapist, and holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology.