We live in a fast-paced world. Face time is rare. The interactions we do have are quick, colored by time-pressure and the stress of everything else on our to-do lists. How does that affect the way we’re communicating with one another?
When time is a stressor, miscommunications are rampant. We’re quick to assume, and slow to question. We assume that if something affects us adversely that the person’s intentions must also have been adverse. That, or they’re just crazy. It’s much more efficient to just blame and demonize them than it is to try and unpack the complexities that might inform the situation. Our wants and needs are our sole focus. When we don’t achieve them, we become frustrated and even more fixated on everything that’s wrong with everyone else. We’re less likely to be looking for creative options that might address both parties’ concerns. We’re more likely to be positional – they throw up a roadblock, we want to throw up a bigger one. Frustrations boil. There’s no time to try and understand one another – and in fact, I’m so frustrated by them that I don’t even want to try.
And yet we know that all of these tendencies only compound the problem. How then, in all of this, can we still manage to communicate effectively?
Press pause – The instinct is to react. The client needs an answer, your colleague has just told you they won’t help, management is breathing down your neck. Fighting words are at your fingertips. Take that extra breath. Before firing off a response, think about the bigger picture. What is it you really want to achieve? How does this one interaction fit into the bigger picture? Do you really know what their intention was? Might there be a way that works for you both? Ask yourself these questions and then choose a purposeful response.
Make the investment – Negotiate how you’re going to communicate. One conversation about expectations and preferences (yours and theirs) can help avoid a whole host of miscommunication. If effective communication is about getting your message across, then knowing your audience and how they receive messages is key. What irks them? What do they think you mean? Take the time to clarify the intention behind your actions – making clear what you do and do not mean. You’ll reap the benefits of greater understanding and fewer messes to clean up on the back end.
Remember to appreciate – Each of us is only human. A bit of empathy for the situation or appreciation for someone’s effort can go a long way. A timely ’I know this isn’t the situation we hoped to be in. Thanks for hanging in there’ may be just the comment your team needs to power through and deliver. It’s low cost for you to make the comment and potentially high value for everyone involved. Hours of research and analysis may boil down to the two-line conclusion that pops up in your inbox. It may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but it was still someone else’s blood, sweat and tears (or it sure felt like it to them!) Recognizing the effort and expressing genuine appreciation will keep others motivated to continue to help you.
What else has worked for you? How do you manage the challenge of communicating in this fast-paced, high-stress world? We’d love to hear your thoughts.