A man walks into a bar and after asking for a glass of water asks the bartender, “Hey, what’s the WIFI password?”
The bar tender gives him a quick glance and responds, “You need to buy a beer first”.
The patron, needing to get something out to a client quickly, orders the beer as instructed.
After receiving the ice cold glass filled with a local IPA from the bartender he again asks, “Can, I have the WIFI password now?”
The bartender quickly responds, “I already told you. ‘youneedtobuyabeerfirst’ – no caps and no spaces.
Corny joke? You betcha. But it highlights the biggest problem that plagues all human relationships – miscommunication. What one person perceives as obvious, another misinterprets. Even the slightest, most mundane discussions can have far reaching consequences. Wars have been waged over much less.
Much has been written over how to communicate better and how to ensure that what we say is what is hear. But, what do we do to improve our communication skills as a receiver of information. Clearly, we can’t rely on the communicator to be an oratory expert as we are the ones buying the unnecessary beer – if there even is such a thing.
Here are three things to do, practice and make habit that will minimize the chances for such misunderstandings to occur in the future:
- Playback – Repeating what you heard back to the communicator to ensure that you heard what was meant to be communicated is a great first step. The above situation would have yielded a much different result if the man ordering the beer would have simply asked, “Did I hear you correctly; that I need to buy a beer?” The thing that keeps us from doing this is the fear of sounding dumb. But what is dumber, doing something that we didn’t intend to do – like buying a beer at 10 am – or playing back what was heard?
- Ask a question – Again, the above situation would have been very different if the man would have asked the bar tender, “Does it matter what type of beer I buy?” The response would have been undoubtedly, “that’s the password, dummy.” If someone is telling you to do something, it’s always best to have absolute clarity on what is being asked before wasting your money – or worse, your time. This is easily resolved by a simple question or two.
- Assume puts the ‘Ass in U and Me’ – Along the same lines as asking questions, the more you assume, the greater the chance for miscommunication to occur. Don’t be scared to play the dumb card. A confused look on the patrons face could have changed the entire story line.
- Recap – The best way that I have found to ensure clarity of a conversation is to take the time to recap what I believe I heard in an email. There’s something about taking the time to think through a conversation that is required by writing it down to recognize the nuances that I might have missed. There’s no harm in sending a recap of the conversation before taking action to make sure that you have clarity on the instruction and that you heard the communicator right on the action he or she will take after you follow the instruction.
- Triangulate – Confirming what you believe you were told by an impartial third party is another great way to ensure you have clarity. Leaning over to the patron at the bar seated next to him and confirming what he was told prior to taking action, would have been a great way to ensure his perception of what he heard was accurate.
Hope this helps.
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