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Sunday, January 23, 2011


Beyond the Cubicle - Corporate Culture with Teri Aulph

Stephen Covey’s Habit #5 in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People states, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” While this may appear to be simple and easy to execute, I believe this is one of the most crucial elements of success and one of the most challenging to refine.

The majority of us have no serious issues letting others know what we want them to do, how we would like them to do it and what the desired outcome should be. However, after we roll out these directives, how many of us take the time to ensure what we thought we were communicating was actually understood the way we intended? What can really complicate this issue is communicating the same directive to multiple groups of people. Each time you deliver the same message you run a risk of altering the original information and confusing the issue further. More importantly, do we listen for understanding before we communicate what we believe is the right message?

This dilemma can impact our personal lives, as well as professional lives. I can remember communicating what I thought were very clear instructions to my sons as they were growing up only to discover what I said and what they heard were completely different messages. It is certainly not uncommon for parents to assume they know what the problem is, provide a quick solution only to discover they were solving the wrong problem. I have a colleague who is a marriage and family counselor. She attributes miscommunication for 75% of the issues for which couples seek her for counseling. According to her, when they work through the noise and reactionary behavior, they discover they typically want the same thing, but are unable to communicate to one another effectively.

As it applies to the workplace, the biggest impact to miscommunication is time and money. Not ensuring your message is understood can result in teams moving in the wrong direction and then having to course correct – both waste time and money. In addition, deadlines can be missed resulting in a domino effect throughout projects.

All this being true, the real question is how to minimize this issue. How do we ensure we understand first – followed by ensuring our response is appropriate and understood?
  1. Value the voice of those you are listening to and avoid assuming you know what they are going to say before they speak. We all have biases, remaining aware of them will allow us to understand more clearly.

  2. Ask clarifying questions as you provide your listener the ‘floor’ first. Try to quiet the voices in your head and focus completely on the speaker.

  3. Repeat back what you believe you have heard and seek agreement from your listener. This may be remedial communication training for some, but if we don’t practice this skill, it will fall by the way side.

  4. Incorporate what you have understood from your listener into your return message. As you assess your audience and use this information to craft an effective response, you will be a step ahead in communicating effectively.

  5. Once you communicate your message, ask for feedback and questions. As you respond to questions, repeat the highlights of your message to make sure each step is clear. Responding to questions provides great opportunities to build upon your message for impact.
In conclusion, asking your listener/audience to repeat what they have heard from you will be the barometer of understanding. If you are not on the same page, this is your cue to clarify. Never assume the communication gap is on the listener’s side. Take responsibility for ensuring you both understand.

This is a process that, hopefully, will simplify a complex issue. Some of the most effective managers and leaders utilize techniques similar to this to launch vision, directives and guide teams. You may have a most eloquent message, but if it is not understood, it won’t matter.

For more information, please visit Teri's TNNWC Bio.

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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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