Making assumptions in our communication at work creates more havoc than one would imagine simply because we are calling something a “fact” when it is generally far from factual. For example, your co-worker is 20 minutes late for an important meeting that you’re holding at a nearby restaurant. You decide his lateness means he doesn’t respect you and as you sit waiting you begin to get angry and frustrated. What really happened was that he lost the directions, left his phone in the office, and ran like the dickens to show up for this meeting that was important to him as well. Meanwhile, you’re steaming because you thought that his not respecting you was a “fact”, when it was just your assumption.
What can you do when your communication at work is less than stellar?
1. Quit “factualizing”
As you sit waiting for your co-worker to arrive or reflect on what you just heard through the grapevine about your being a poor manager or perseverate about what your CEO told the COO about your work, ask yourself this simple question…“Is it true?” Do I have all the facts? If your answer to this question is no, then quit “factualizing”. If you haven’t heard the facts directly from the person, then you really don’t have all the information you need in order to make a clear assessment of the situation. At this point, you only know what you “think” was said or what you “think” happened, which often leads us to feeling angry and frustrated while blaming those around us.
- Allow yourself to think that there might be another perspective.
- Perhaps there is more information that you don’t yet know.
This may sound too simple but this simple suggestion is really quite effective. It opens the door for other possibilities and increases your curiosity about what really did happen.
2. Ask a Simple Question
A simple question is all you need to clarify what was really said and what was really meant. For example, “When you told me to call Mr. Jones, you raised your voice. Are you angry with me?” or “When you handed out this week’s assignments, I noticed you didn’t give one to me. How come?” We are not mind-readers nor do we want to be.
Solution: The easiest and most direct way to find out the facts is to simply ask.
Special Note: Check to make sure your question is coming from an easy, comfortable place. If you are angry or blaming as you ask your question, it will only add more fuel to the fire and your question will most likely be construed as criticism.
3. You’re Still in Control
If you can’t get the facts from the person, either because you can’t reach them or they are not forthcoming with an answer, you can know that you still get to decide how you want to view the situation and how you want to respond. Take the time to think of other possible reasons for this situation until you really know the facts and decide that this other person’s thought or behavior is not something you have to react to.
- Remember that you are the only one who can control how you respond.
- This will save you from having a huge “headache”.
4. Is This “Good” for Me or “Bad” for Me?
How many times a day do you look at a situation and think the worst? Not that the current challenge or impasse will be good for you, but rather in some way what’s happening is really bad and will have a bad outcome.
If we think something is good for us we correspondingly feel good and when we think something is bad for us we then tend to feel bad. Since you don’t know all the facts yet, why not decide that in some way this situation is good for you? Maybe you can use the time to more thoroughly think out the meeting plan or maybe take care of e-mails that are awaiting answers. This could also be the perfect opportunity to practice patience and understanding which in itself can be seen as a huge benefit that will lead to a more constructive meeting. So the question here isn’t, “Where the “blankity blank” is he”?
- Instead, a more useful question is, “How is this good for me?”
- Trust me; this will lead to a more favorable result.
5. Listen with an Open Mind…a key element for effective communication at work
As you’re listening to your co-worker state the facts, refrain from having a second conversation in your mind about all the things you thought while you were waiting. Let go of thinking about what you want to say and just listen. This is your golden opportunity to finally get the facts and find out what really happened. Knowing the facts will put you in the best position for a successful outcome and keep you on track for the real purpose of what you both want to accomplish.
- Stay present and listen!
- Drop any blame or accusation and believe that there is a justified answer. This will result in you showing up with the most receptive attitude.
Making assumptions is the number one workplace communication killer and using the simple steps above will help you gain correct information, allow you speak to the more more clearly, and help you avoid the huge pitfalls which result from reacting to something that just might not be true.
To set up a free Communicate for Success Session for details on how to apply the above ideas in your workplace environment, click here.
Looking forward to hearing from you!