The other day my husband Steve asked if I was ready to go for a walk. I replied, “And the dog’s more than ready!”
He said “that’s not what I asked. Are you ready?”
This tends to happen to us. He’ll ask a question. I’ll read into it and give a reply that assumes the answer.
But if he doesn’t hear the actual answer, he can’t interpret what I’ve said. And that is frustrating for both of us.
If I’d simply added 1 word, if I’d answered “Yes! And the dog’s more than ready!” he would have understood and been able to receive the further information. Instead, I assumed he understood that my “and” covered the answer.
We all know what happens when we “ass-u-me”.
As I have a tendency to do this at home, I need to be extra careful to avoid “assuming and extrapolating” at work, too.
Communication with our stakeholders should be concise, as we all have full plates already. In an effort to be brief, to not waste our reader’s time, we naturally make assumptions in our emails, documentation, reports, etc. However, being too concise increases the chance of misinterpretation.
Here are three key methods to keep your communication clear:
- Answer the question first. If you’re replying to an email or writing a summary report, there was an initial question or intent you’re responding to. First answer the question, and only then add relevant information
- Use formatting techniques. Specifically, use bullet points to group together information. But here’s the key: use a header topic to explain the information. (For example, these bullet points are under a header topic that says the grouping is all about clear communication.)
- Re-read your document for assumptions. Do you remember your elementary school teacher telling you to write like you’re explaining to “someone who has never heard of the topic”? That remains good advice! Especially in our distracted world, our team members don’t always pay attention to the details. This is a good way to orient them to the subject before you give them important information
Clear communication takes effort. It’s a balance between data and human nature. If we are going to respond to a question, we must answer it in a way that the person asking can understand and absorb. No assumptions.
Am I ready to walk the dog? Yes. Is he excited, too? Absolutely! Time to get his leash…