We’ve all had bad experiences in the workplace caused by confusion or misunderstanding. The problem comes when the message you think you are sending is different from the message the recipient has understood. Confusion creates more confusion, and a lot of preventable conflict and stress can pile up before things get resolved. It’s much better to communicate clearly in the first place and avoid the unnecessary drama. Here are eight ways to do just that.
1- Choose the right channel
Every communication you send should start with a simple question: “what’s the right way to send this message?” Face-to-face meeting? Instant messaging? Email? Video conference? They all have their strengths, and using the best one for each situation goes a long way toward clear communication.
2- Respect work-life boundaries
A lot of clear communication comes down to respect. Respect that your colleagues, coworkers, and employees have their own lives outside of work, and their time is their own. So, unless it’s life-or-death important, don’t expect them to reply asap to an email you send on the weekend, and don’t schedule a two-hour meeting on Friday at five.
3- Always answer “why?”
In many cases, people misunderstand what you are asking in a message because you are not clear enough on your final goal. They might listen/read carefully to your detailed communication, but as the “why” is not clear, they won’t be able to figure out the exact purpose of your message. Telling people “why” is essential to giving them ownership over a shared project.
4- Be clear on “what” you are expecting
It’s easy to be inaccurate in our communications, because of course we know exactly what we mean 100% of the time. The key is to look at every message you send with fresh eyes and ask yourself “if I had no idea what this was about, would I be able to get all the information I need from this message?” Another trick to making sure we say “what” is to make sure we’re not spending too much time just describing the context/problem without specifically highlighting the action required.
5- If you work with experts, leave the “how” to them
If you work with experts, don’t tell them how to do something. They are supposed to know better than you—that’s why they have the job. If you get involved in the “how”, your experts might consider your advice as an order and will do it your way to avoid conflict. Much better to point the way toward the destination and show your team that you are confident they will find the best way there on their own.
6- The “when” is absolutely crucial
Time is our most precious resource. In the workplace, we always feel under pressure. The same is certainly true with email and other communications. But if you look carefully at the current situation, you will discover that “time expected” for an action/reply is rarely very clear in an email. You know who sent it, and maybe what it’s about, but not when (or even if) the sender wants an action or reply. This leads people to feel like they need to respond to everything asap. Being clear on “when” is essential to preserving other people’s time, and yours.
7- Don’t be afraid to be substantive
Unfortunately, we are confronted with the feeling that speed is key for execution. Too often this rush creates sloppiness and inaccuracy, and a ton of wasted time and clutter as a chain of follow-up messages tries to clear everything up. When substance is called for, feel free to take your time and get it right.
8- Sometimes, to avoid confusion, do nothing!
A simple rule is sometimes to wait one or two days before sending a message to your team, especially if it is something that you decided on in an emotionally charged moment. You will see that it is better to wait, so your ideas become more clear and more rational. A good idea will never go bad after a couple of days, but plenty of not-so-good ones that seemed brilliant at the time will benefit from a little waiting period and revisiting down the road.