In his excellent book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey cites Habit Number Five as, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Excellent advice. That one point will make everyone’s relationships much more, well…effective.
Complementary to that habit, it’s equally important to be sure that, in communicating your point, you do so in such a way that the other person understands you and what you mean to say.
I often suggest that when it comes to effective communication, the onus is always on us to be sure the other person understands our point/want/need. I’ll be forever grateful to one of my early mentors who told me, “Burg, when the shooter misses the target, it ain’t the target’s fault.”
We can’t expect others to put that burden of understanding on themselves so, if our goal is to be the most effective, positively powerful persuader we can be, we must accept that responsibility.
While keeping the importance of tact and diplomacy in mind, it’s imperative to be so clear in your message that there’s little or no chance of misinterpretation. In other words, avoid giving mixed messages.
What is a mixed message? Actually there are different types. Today, let’s focus on one. This is when a person says one thing, but follows it up with an “opposite.” For example, you say to your employee, “Al, I definitely need the specs by this Friday, but don’t rush if it’s going to mean a substandard job.”
Well, what exactly does this mean? Is Friday the deadline, or is excellence the top priority? What if, for whatever reason, both deadline and top quality are not possible? If Al doesn’t know enough (or know how) to ask for clarification, you might receive specs that are too late to present to your prospect, or not up to quality standards.
How do you ensure that *you* don’t fall victim to a mixed message? Simply by putting the onus of clarification on yourself. This is easiest when using an “I message.”
For example, imagine your boss tells you, “I definitely need the specs by this Friday, but don’t rush if it’s going to mean a substandard job.” You can say, “Mary, just for my own clarification, as I want to make sure and deliver the specs in the way you want them delivered, is it more important to you that…” and complete the question.
So, remember, it’s up to us to be sure our message is understood by the recipient, and that we understand their message. And, there’s nothing “mixed” about that. 🙂