Did you talk to them? Did you ask them that question?
These two sentences come out of my mouth in many of my coaching sessions. A client will get talking about a situation and say “I don’t understand why they….” or “Why would someone do….?” My response is always the same – “Ask them”. A lot of miscommunication is simply that we don’t have the discussion and then we make assumptions.
I‘m reminded of the time I was working a four-month summer job when I was in University. Three months in, my boss decides to do a performance review. During the performance review she says,”You are frequently late”. I was shocked – I was there early every morning. I explained that I was there 15 minutes early every morning and what my routine was. Where I worked was not on the bus route and I didn’t have a car, so I biked to work every day. I worked in an office setting so being smelly was not reasonable in my business suit. I would arrive at 8:15 am, get my day started and cool down while no one was in the office I shared with two other people. Then I would go to the washroom, wash up and change. My boss came in while I was in the washroom and assumed I went straight there. Instead of talking to me about it, she waited until the performance review. She went three months thinking I was late, and I had no idea she thought that. Had she spoken to me on the day she initially saw me walking back to my office late, I could have explained and we could have figured something out that worked for both of us.
Many misunderstandings can be dealt with by a simple conversation. If you are curious, then ask the question without adding blame. Note the behaviour and ask about it. For the above example, when I walked by, my boss could have stopped me and said “Lisa, I notice you walking back from the washroom at 8:40 am every day. Your start time is 8:30. Can you explain please?” It really is that simple, especially if you are the leader thinking someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Go and find out why. They may have made an assumption based on your actions that it was okay. I certainly assumed that since my boss said good morning to me every time I walked by that there was no issue.
I know what you might be thinking – what about those conversations that we truly dread? I recently had to have one of those dreaded conversation with my boyfriend. We needed to talk about money. Argh! No one likes these conversations. Initially the conversation did not go well. I got frustrated and upset and you could hear it in my voice, which my boyfriend took to mean I was angry with him so he got defensive. He couldn’t hear beyond the frustration in my voice to my words. He thought I was blaming him for everything, which is not at all what I was trying to do. Unfortunately, because we’d left the conversation too long,I couldn’t get out of the frustrated feeling. It then became a conversation about him not listening to me and him believing I blamed everything on him.This is what happens when we wait to have a conversation. We let our emotions take over and then we listen with our emotions rather than with our ears. He was hearing my frustration and thought it was frustration with him, which triggered me and then all I could see was that he still wasn’t listening. It took a week but we both calmed down and had a different conversation. I explained my frustration and what things were frustrating me. I explained the parts that I was frustrated with him about and the parts I was frustrated with myself for. Then we came up with a new plan going forward. The following week he did something that triggered me. He could tell I was annoyed even though I was saying I was fine. This time instead of telling him what he should do I decided that it would be better to try and understand why he had done what he just did. Instead of waiting, I said “I’m annoyed again, can you explain why you just made that decision, because I’m thinking it’s because you still haven’t heard me.” This brought the conversation to a whole different place. His response was he just didn’t think about it, and I totally believe him. Over the following days we had conversations about how he could think about things before doing them, and how I could step back from the responsibility and stress that these decisions were causing me.
Communication is so important. When we are in a high emotion conversation (which money often is), we can’t hear what the other person is saying. We only hear what our emotions are telling us. When this happens take a moment to bring yourself back to a calm place and look at the reality of the situation. You have likely added to the facts of the story with your own fears and biases. Do your best to remove those, be honest about them, and then try the conversation again.