One of the most important part of your business (or social) communication is understandability to eliminate guess work on the part of the listener. Have you included enough information in your email or other written communication to specify what you are talking about and what is involved, such as days, dates, and time? The following is told from the viewpoint of Jane, a student of Neuro-linguistic programming, who also worked in the communication department of a global company.
Here is an example of what can happen in a simple email exchange that can generate confusion and misunderstanding. This is an actual email exchange requesting a study sponsored by a department in this global company. This company is no longer in business. Jane and Chuck are on a list (cc: many) and receive an email from Alex. Mike is the head of global research. (Names have been changed to protect the unaware.)
We would like to conduct a study and are in the process of identifying a third-party who can help us with the research. Please take a look at the list of companies below and let me know what you think regarding their ability to help.
[Email was sent to people Alex knew in Communications including Chuck.]
Not familiar with any of these companies. Please contact Mike who is global head of program. He should know what you are doing and provide some counsel.
Who is sponsoring this research? Since I am global head of the program I would have thought I would have known about this?
[Jane’s thoughts: From Chuck’s email, it indicated he was making sure that
Mike was made aware]
Mike, I was aware that Communications wanted to conduct some research. I spoke to Joe, the Communications Marketing contact, on Friday. I recommended they take an industry approach to the research and that they first speak with Martha who heads up our overall market research function.
Who is this person?
[Jane’s thoughts: Hmmm……. I mentioned 2 people in my email and briefly described each one’s role so concluded that Mike was not asking about them. Mike knows Chuck so he must be inquiring about Alex.]
Mike, Alex is the Knowledge Manager for Communications.
[Jane’s thoughts: I guess he was asking about Alex since I received no additional emails.]
Remember, there are 3 filters to take into account when writing or speaking:
The way I see or understand something
- The way I represent with words that understanding or perception
- The way the listener understands my words.
Almost all of our communication is deleted, generalized or distorted in some way because our perceptions are deleted, generalized and distorted to make sense of them. Each person perceives some thing different out of the same experience so what they perceive from a communication is different.
When we are forced to deal or comprehend something we:
- Ignore missing information
- Fill in our own interpretation
- Ask for the information (few people go this far)
The first 2 happens most of the time.
Excellence in communication requires us to ask for missing information or ask for clarification. When constructing writing or spoken communication, make sure it is as complete as possible. Imagine it is not you but someone else completely ignorant of the subject who will be reading or listening and fill in the blanks a head of time. This takes time on the front end but will have less misunderstandings on the back end.
Ask yourself: “What are the consequences of my reader or listener misunderstanding what I am saying? What are the consequences of them adding their own interpretations to my communication and what will happen if they do?”
Here are some guidelines:
- When specifically: Always include specific dates and times. If you are talking about a Monday, which Monday? 4/16/18, 4/30/18? This prevents someone from misunderstanding which Monday you are speaking about. If you are saying “next” Monday, the reader may not see an email until after your date but still think they haven’t missed anything.
- Who specifically: Always include the full names of people when mentioning a person, who they are, and a description of each person’s function. This is important especially if many people are mentioned or involved.
- Easy to read format: If your email or text has a lot to text, bullet points or numbered points are easier to follow. It is less likely that the reader will omit reading them or miss important points.
- Where specifically: Give sources of information – where your information comes from and/or specific place or physical location.
- How specifically; in what way: Define terms and specify linguistic nominalizations such as “research, communication, decision(s), test, problem, goal, outcome, relationship” – to name a few.
- Compared to what: avoid using comparative deletions such as “best, better, worst” without specifying what is being compared.
- Has there ever been a time: avoid generations such as “all, always, never, everyone, no one.” These words are generalizations which seldom hold up to scrutiny. There are usually exceptions to every rule and sometimes they can be important exceptions.
- How does x cause y: the use of “because, make, cause, force” implying a cause- effect relationship where there may not be any or the cause effect relationship is different from the one not stated.
- How do you know: mind-reading. The use of “I know” without specifying how you know.
- According to whom – the use of value judgments and name-calling. Words such as “crazy, bad, difficult, easy, hard” unless who says this is stated.
The larger the distribution list, the more information needs to be in it. Never assume your audience knows what you are talking about. Assume they know nothing.
Excellence in communication mean surface communication (what comes out of your mouth or words on paper, email, etc. ….
- Surface structures are well formed in English.
- a capital letter at the beginning
- a full-stop at the end
- a subject (whoor what the sentence is about)
- a verb (that tells you what’s happening)
- and, finally, many people say that it should express ‘a single thought’
- Surface structures contain no unexplored deletions
- Surface structures contain no nominalizations
- Events turned into their process form; Example: Communication is impossible with him. > So you are having difficulty communicating with him.
- Surface structures contain no words or phrases lacking referral.
- Example: They said…> Who specifically said…? My boss, John Smith, said…)
- Surface structures contain no unexplored presuppositions. (Assumptions, assertions, assessments, implications)