It so happens that you can get the impression that your company has this rock-solid commitment to Really Bad Communication. I hear about it. A lot. It’s not that the perpetrators are dumb, ignorant, or even bad people. They’re usually amazingly generous, quite clever and super-crazy busy.
However, it can be challenging not to let Really Bad Communication get you down.
What drives BAD communication is not the absence of knowledge, but rather a driving force of avoiding blame, aka “CYA,” combined with pressure to handle an insane workload all the time. A wise friend once explained to me a lot of
managers people will go to any length to avoid being blamed for any negative outcome. Remember, unlike the university universe, in corporate land, no one has tenure. Okay, hardly anyone, so you can see where keeping your steady job is a desired objective.
Back to what Really Bad Communication (RBC) looks like (like you don’t already know):
- PowerPoint slides full of long bullet points written in 10-point type. Even worse, the presenter reads it to you. This is the moment where you need to find your happy place! Throwing sharpened pencils at the presenter in protest doesn’t do anyone good!
- Vague emails. (So vague you mentally start playing “Where’s Waldo.”)
- Long emails. (So long you have panic attacks about high school English and reading Homer)
- Long windy meetings. (Not the day for the short skirts!)
- Listening to the Boss tell long stories about himself and never ask you about yourself. (Smile anyway.)
- Vague requests. (You’re searching for what they want you to do….but not really getting it.)
- Long requests.
- Last-minute demands for no apparently-phenomenal reason.
Key words to describe RBC are LONG, VAGUE and NOT LISTENING.
Long = I’m giving you every possible detail so you can’t blame me if you miss some key detail. Also I’m too busy to edit this long message/email/presentation/conversation. Sorry!
Vague: I’m not really sure what is wanted but I agreed to pass on the message. Also I’m too busy to clarify what this is really about.
Not Listening: I’m not listening to you right now. I’m thinking about the other fires I need to put out.
Here’s what you can do when you’re around Really Bad Communication:
1. Do not blame or even try to change the Really Bad Communicator. Unless she asks for help. Accept that she is doing the best she knows how to at this particular time. Do not pay attention to the fact that she may earn double your salary.
If you resent her terrible messaging, even in secret, you end of reinforcing it. Not kidding!
2. Get clarification. Put what you think the person wants in your own words and ask if that’s a correct interpretation. Do this ALL the time; eventually most people you interact with will prefer to improve their communication with you because they know you’ll be asking for clarification. Then it will ripple across the organization and then the world. Yay!
3. Model Really Good Communication.
- Listen carefully. (You were given two ears for a good reason.)
- Don’t interrupt.
- Ask people to repeat back to you what they understand from your message. (What they heard might not be what you were meaning to say. At all.)
- Take the time to edit out unnecessary details from your messages/emails/presentations/conversations.
- Ask people if you’ve answered their questions to satisfaction.
- Smile and find really good things to say about people. (Even when there does not seem to be any – find some!)
- Speak to the benefits that matter to your audience.
- Slow down.
4. Amaze them with Sincere Compliments.
Seriously. It’s for your own good. When you redirect your focus to find previously unrecognized good qualities, efforts and actions in people, you feel better and so does everyone else. A consistent practice of daily SINCERE compliments raises productivity. Pinky promise. This is based on real research.
That’s right, be the change you want to see and others will follow your example.
Yep. 4 things: Don’t blame, Get clarification, Model + Compliment (sincerely)!