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I don’t know when Confucius (551-479 BC) is supposed to have said ” If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant: if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone”!

Whenever he did, it remains applicable to this day. More often than not, we say one thing yet mean another.

A few examples come to mind:

  • ” I need the report now” when we mean ” I need the report within the next 30 minutes’
  • ” Do it like last time” when we mean ” Use the same format”
  • ” Keep me informed” when we mean ” Let me know if there is a problem”

Communication within teams becomes much more effective when expectations are clearly stated at the outset.

Often team members don’t know when and what they should tell their boss. Here is something I have always followed. I have told my direct reports:

  • These are the circumstances under which I must be informed – wherever I am, any time of day or night.
  • These are the circumstances under which you can keep me informed. I may respond, I may not. This is lower priority stuff. Typically called ” Nice to know”.
  • These are the circumstances of which you must not keep me informed. For example, don’t say you have sent that report if that is what we agreed you would do. Don’t say you are still working on a task, if that is what you are supposed to be doing anyway etc.

Problems relating to communication get compounded with the explosion of emails we see in most organizations. Too many email wars go on today. Within the organization. Within the same floor of a building. Within the same shared cubicle!

Encourage more face to face communication. Allow people to get the benefit of understanding your feelings and emotions as captured by your body language and tone of voice.

Saying what you mean is not as easy as it sounds. But done well, it can reduce innumerable problems caused by faulty communication.

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This is the 73 rd of the “A Step A Day “series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.