Just because we speak the same language does not mean we understand what we each other is saying. Let me give an example from my childhood. When I was in the 5th grade, I had a teacher try to teach us about rocks and geology. For a project everyone in the class had to build a rock collection. One day, I found a rock but could not identify it. So I asked my teacher what it was. She said, “It’s nice. Keep it.”
I did not understand. “OK, but what is it?”
“It’s nice. Keep it.”
“But what is it?”
The rest of the class started laughing.
She was starting to get exasperated, “It nice. Keep it!”
I too was frustrated. I understood it was a nice rock. And she wanted me to keep it. That meant I needed to put it in my rock collection. I also knew my collection would be marked down if every rock was not labelled. I thought maybe I could just throw it away. But she had already seen it and told me to keep it. So I could not just throw it away. I was stuck. So I asked again even more emphatically, “But what is it?”
She finally reached the conclusion I was not going to get it. She said, “Just keep it.” And walked away.
Later I realized she was saying, “gneiss,” not “nice.” Both are pronounced the same.
This is a classic example of saying what you mean but not communicating. Simply repeating the same words to each other was not helping us communicate. It simply created frustration.
Language is an imperfect tool. Just because something it is plainly stated does not mean it is plainly understood. And without understanding there is no communication.
Problems in communication are costly to any business or enterprise. Without efficient communication, your company expends time, and money, which could and should be used for more productive activities, fixing problems. I am going to share a technique that has worked well for me in avoiding communication problems.
A few years ago I had a friend who could not understand why he would have these long conversations with his boss and agree on a course of action. He would then execute what was agreed upon only to later have another discussion with his boss as to why what was agreed to was not done. The problem was while there was agreement there was not understanding. There was no true communication. Here is what I suggested to my friend that solved the problem. At strategic moments in the conversation when understanding is important repeat back what you understood the other person to say. This needs to be done in your own words with your interpretation of what was said, not simply what was said, What you are trying to do is communicate the meaning of what was said.
I cannot tell you how many times this techniques has saved my bacon. When I start working with a new person my conversation goes something like this. “Let me tell you what I heard you say. I am not saying this is what you said, simply what I understood you to say….”
Give it a try. I think you will be delighted with the results.