Three clients came to me recently with concerns about whether they were making themselves clear, in meetings, in employee conversations. They asked, “how do I make sure they hear what I want them to hear?” There are two pieces to this: what you say and what they hear.
In one case a client’s associate was continuing down a path they discussed was the wrong path. Had the associate misunderstood? Or was the advice just being ignored?
In another case, the client’s employees kept coming back with questions on the same issue. Did the client not make himself clear enough the first time? Were the employees not feeling empowered to make decisions on their own?
In a third case, the client felt that their team was leaving meetings without clarity. Was she not communicating clearly? Were they interpreting the content differently than she intended?
Let’s start with what you say. What gets in the way of clarity?
Skipping steps. If you have spent a lot of time on the issue, have a lot of history with it, you may skip important context and details without realizing. It’s so obvious to you it seems unnecessary to say. The antidote? Paying careful attention to where the other person is coming from and what they are likely to know and not know. Ask them. “What do you know about this already?”
Forgetting the why. If you just tell people what you want them to do and how you want them to do it, you aren’t empowering them to act. People need to understand the why. If they understand the goal and they understand the reason why, they can fill in the details of what to do without continually coming back to you.
Using too many words. If you’re not clear on what you’re trying to say, or use too many words, you lose people. Be succinct. Frame up what you’re going to say. Identify the important points. Know in advance what you want them to leave with.
Using the wrong words. If you use words that others may not have in their vocabulary, you won’t be understood. This can happen when a boss is proud of his or her intellectual prowess and vocabulary. It also happens when someone uses insider words to an outsider. Insider words can be the jargon of an industry, the jargon of a division, the jargon of a culture. Put yourself in their world and notice how people communicate in that world.
Assumptions. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume they know what you want. Don’t assume they understand. Don’t assume you’re being clear.
How do you know what they hear?
In order to know you have to ask! Ask so you know and they know. Here are some examples of how to ask that I shared with my clients:
- What are you taking away from this conversation?
- What stands out for you about what I’ve said?
- If this happens again in the future, what will you do next time?
- What do you think are the key points that we’ve decided?
- Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What’s your take on this?
- Let’s review. What do you agree on and what do you disagree on or are unclear about?
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. If you just ask “do you understand” and they say “yes,” you won’t know whether they heard what you wanted them to, or whether they just think they did. It’s important to hear it in their words.
In summary, know what you want to say, don’t skip steps, be succinct, use words others will understand, share why, don’t assume. And always check-in to see what’s being heard.
Think back to a conversation this week. Were you heard? How do you know?