"Communication and the Contractor": The most important communication tool...
Communication - I often say - is the most important art form never taught. It isn't taught in high school and unless you sign up for it, not in college either!
Yet we are expected to understand one another, and make ourselves clear. To that I say: It's amazing that it happens as often as it does! That's not a pessimistic statement but one that comes from understanding how much meaning is buried in our words and our minds that remains unexpressed.
We take one another at face value - actually, more at "word value". We believe that others mean what they say. When we learn that this is not always true, we tend to get distrustful of the whole process and just hide ourselves in, "They're an idiot. They should have said what they meant."
With the most important tool in communication, you can avoid a lot of that. What is the most important tool? Questions!
For instance, say someone says something that really ticks you off. What do you do? Well, you get pissed, of course! But what do you do to make sure that you are getting ticked off for the right reason? How do you avoid a later conversation where your partner in convo says, "But that isn't at ALL what I meant!"
Ask a question.
"When you said xyz, what I heard was abc. IS THAT WHAT YOU ACTUALLY MEANT or did I get that wrong?"
Questions are golden.
I worked - briefly - as a contractor for a team who could not communicate at all, and I mean that literally; they did not reach out, they seemed never to have time to offer feedback that invited collegial collaboration, and they were very comfortable with negative feedback but not so much with the positive. They also never reached out to communicate and check in on progress or on simple human well-being of someone else - me - in their team.
The assumptions grew and grew and finally they shooed me out the door for not meeting their unexpressed expectations.
That is the problem with not asking questions.
Had they asked, "What are you working on? Are you doing okay? Are you stuck?" or something like, "Is that our font, it looks different?" instead of, "You have to stick to our brand, that's not our font!", which it was, they would have learned, and we all would have grown together.
Had I asked, "What are your expectations?"...but wait, I did ask. They simply said, "Do what you do."
Leaving questions out of the equation leaves you following wrong breadcrumbs to wrong conversational meals.
A cool addition: Think about what your "convo partner" might be hearing before you leave something where you spoke it. I will often speak an opinion or piece of information and follow it up with, "For instance, what I mean is that when xyz happens, this abc is what I think should follow," or something along those lines. The "For Instance" gives you the chance to avoid insulting someone else by saying something awkward like, "Don't you get it?". Instead, you get to provide context to someone who is not in your head.
Because who, in fact, IS in your head?
Only you. It's a good head, but it does need translating to others.
As theirs do to you.
Lori Kirstein believes in following and creating only those rules that t support your best self in work and in life. Communication done with awareness and skill is not only possible, it is life and career-changing. Communication is just a different kind of learning. And it is one that brings incredible rewards and joy in all aspects of our lives.