Did I really say what I think I just said?


I’m a lifelong communications guy, but I still convey the wrong message sometimes.  Why?  Because words are my stock and trade, I get overconfident.  As a professional communicator, I can get my message across accurately in one email, one conversation, one well-turned, articulate phrase.  I walk away from an encounter with a sense of accomplishment.  See how cleverly I handled that issue?  The speed!  The clarity!  On to the next problem!

Ten minutes later I get a reply email or a phone call that makes one thing eminently clear:  My carefully-crafted message was anything but clear.  I intended one thing, but the message recipient interpreted it differently; I thought I had laid out a simple, goal-based plan with a concrete timeline, but the person on the other end of the phone asks, “So, are you delivering the draft on Tuesday, or the final on Tuesday?”

We learn how to talk as children, and spend a lot of our lives doing it, so it’s no surprise that we assume we always do it well.  We’ve been doing it for so long we don’t even think about it.  But no matter how effective I think I am, there’s another human being at the opposite end of the transaction.  In communications lingo, that person is called the receiver.  When I screw up, it’s usually because I’m thinking about something other than the receiver.  I’m either thinking about me (ho-ho, look how good I am at this communication thing), or the message (ho-ho, look how clever this is, won’t they be impressed).

The surest way to avoid these traps is to focus on the receiver – the most important element in the communication chain.  Who are you talking to?  What do you know about that person?  His history?  Her background?  We receive messages according to our perception, which is shaped by everything we’ve experienced in our lives.  The more you know about your receiver, the more effective your message.

Maybe you think this sounds a little touchy-feely for the business world.  Yes, we do this for a living.  We want to earn a profit.  But our business model is based on the concept of understanding, of empathizing.  Communication is about giving.  We need to understand you to communicate effectively for you.

We’re pretty good at it.  We’re proud of that.  But we don’t always get it right.  So if I didn’t say what I thought I just said, let me know.  It probably means I need to get to know you a little better.

- Dave Duggins