Tony Hseith, CEO of Zappos, had an interview test question for C level job candidates. He’d ask them, “What’s the difference between a perception and a misperception?” If they didn’t know or debated it, the interview was over. If they said, “There is no difference between a perception and a misperception” – the interview continued. Recognizing there is no difference is key to being an excellent communicator.
“But that is not what I meant!” was the cry of Jason when he saw survey data that showed the way he was understood. He could not believe that others did not understand his good intent, how hard he was working, and how committed he was to the project. “They should understand!”
While Jason’s first reaction was that others’ judgment of him was unfair … it is a common reaction when people learn how others see them. When Jason saw what he looked like on video, sitting across the table from himself, he understood the perception. When Jason took full responsibility for his communication behavior it allowed him to align his intent more closely with his communication approach. It significantly impacted how others viewed him. He became a dramatically better communicator. We see it time after time with our clients.
So what can you do if you do not have a survey, a video of yourself, and a coach across the table? The simple answer is to take more responsibility for your communication effectiveness without thinking someone else should understand.
There are many answers to the question, but lets start with the most common one ….
Think about the situation from the Other Person’s Point of View (OPPOV). Craft your message content to the rewards, motivations, and fears of the other person in a concise way. (Try to limit to a maximum of three points). Deliver the message visually and vocally so that the other person understands you intent. Setting context at the beginning really helps such as, “I really like your idea and I need a couple of clarifications. Do you have a couple of minutes to discuss it?” The statement shows your intent is a positive one and you are being respectful of their time. Your questions will likely be heard with much more positive intent than if you just walked up and started asking the person questions about their idea.
Trust is a filter the other person uses to create their own meaning from your words. The higher the trust, the more likely you will be accurately understood. Trust is much more than whether you tell the truth. “Do you have my interests in mind?” is a natural question going through someone’s mind as they listen.
Confirming understanding is essential on important communications. “Do you understand?” is not effective. “Please tell me specifically what you think I am asking you to do, because it is really important we get this right” is much more likely to gain accurate alignment.
For extra credit … think about how this applies to sending emails. We will cover that at another time.