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How to communicate best when others don’t communicate well

by Elizabeth Singhas, Planet Pharma and Planet Healthcare


We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting with your colleague, working on a project, communication is flowing and you think you’re both on the same page. This is great! You are good to go, ready to do the work and then you realize you are actually not on the same page at all. You thought they were going to get approval on the budget and bring your CEO up to speed, while they heard you would write up and distribute the meeting notes and draft a distribution plan. In reality, neither of you agreed to tackle these tasks, but other action items all together. It happens!

Another example: your manager says there is flexibility in your working hours. “Do you need to work until 7:30 to get the work done? Sure, you can come in later!” A few weeks later, she pulls you in her office unhappy you are arriving an hour later than everyone else. She wants you to work your normal schedule.

When these situations arise, it can be rightfully frustrating. We all want to do the best we can and prove that we bring value to our companies, but it can be hard when communication is lacking. In a business setting, it can be difficult to tell our co-workers they are not communicating in a productive way, while also not having to over-communicate, or clarify every point, ourselves.

If you are experiencing communication issues with a colleague, team, or manager, here are a few things that can be effective in getting everyone on the same page!

1. List the goals

Whether for a meeting, project update, new initiative or just heart-to-heart with a colleague, what do you want to accomplish? Make a list of a few specific things that will further the cause and make the meeting or interaction better. If you don’t know the goals ahead of time (and haven’t communicated with others), you may wind up talking in circles instead of tackling the to do’s head on.

2. Schedule a meeting

If you’re having communication issues with a particular colleague, ask them if they have 30 minutes or so to meet with you. Tell them you are trying to do better with communicating and getting their feedback would be helpful. Diplomatically explain what you see are the barriers to your collective success and work to get to a place of agreement. Remember, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Whatever you do, try not to make your colleague defensive. That will shut down all communication abruptly and could permanently damage your relationship. Instead, be humble and ask for advice on how you could communicate better. Do they want more/less communication? What do they want communicated? And, what method is preferred? Text? Email? Slack? Video chat? In person?

3. Talk about your shared objectives and ask questions.

This goes back to your goals list. Explain what you feel like is lacking and ask them how best you can tackle this. Look for common ground. Ultimately, your styles and roles may be different, but your goals should be the same.

Using the work times example, you could say something to the effect of “I know originally we agreed on a 9-5 schedule however with many of my clients on the west coast, I find it more productive to work later than anticipated. Would I be able to come in a little later to better service those accounts or would you rather me stick to the original schedule?” Be specific about what you are looking to accomplish – and why.

4. Recap the conversation

After the conversation or meeting, recap what was discussed and who is taking responsibility. Do so while still together and then again in an email. Take another opportunity to outline the goals and the steps being taken to achieve them. By always having a recap, there is less room for interpretation or unclear responsibilities.

5. Ask for feedback

As you work on your shared communication, touch base with your colleague, manager or team and ask for feedback. What’s working and what’s not? Do they have additional suggestions for areas of improvement, or tools you can try?

Communication is at the heart of every organization’s success and is critical to achieving goals. But, for many it’s not an easy skill to master. Own your part in it and do what you can to improve the conversations you’re having with others. Success is sure to follow.

Photo credit: Pixabay on Pexels

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