Six Ways to Avoid Misunderstandings

Posted by Todd Smith

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Early in my career, I found myself involved in countless situations that resulted in misunderstandings. My natural reaction was to blame others, rather than accept responsibility. I used to think it was the other person’s fault if he or she did not understand something or explain something properly. After all, how could it be possible that I was at fault?

Then the day came when I made the decision that I would accept 100% responsibility for all misunderstandings in which I am involved. While there have been some painful, costly, and frustrating lessons, I have learned something from every misunderstanding and it has made me a better communicator.

This decision to accept responsibility for all my miscommunications forced me to not only focus on clear communication, but it has also improved my ability to identify warning signs where there may be a breakdown in communication.

If you will strive for excellence and take pride in the clarity of your communications, your value to the market will increase, people’s respect for you will grow and you will become a more effective leader.

Let me share with you six lessons I’ve learned about how to avoid misunderstandings.

1.  Make Sure Your Written Communications are Clear—Always proof messages after you type them and ask, “How could this message be misunderstood?” This effort will require a little more time spent thinking about each message, but I’ve learned the extra time is worth the investment in your brand. Like anything, the more you focus on the clarity of your communication, the better and faster you will become in the process.

2.  Evaluate the Clarity of Your Oral Communications—Whether you’re having a casual conversation with a friend, giving a dinner guest directions, leaving a voicemail message, or providing instructions to a business colleague, focus on the clarity of your oral communications. I often have to remind myself people aren’t mind-readers and they only know what I tell them.

3.  Write ALL Things Down and Repeat Them —Make a commitment that from this day forward that you will write all instructions down which are given to you. Whether you are going to the grocery store for your parents or spouse, ordering take-out food for the family from your favorite restaurant, or working on an important project, always write things down.

Writing things down helps you remember what was asked of you and reduces stress in the process. If you repeat the instructions back to the person who gave them to you, you’ll avoid any misunderstandings. This extra effort is one of the things that distinguish those at the top of the pay scale from those at the bottom. It’s one of the key differentiators between those who are responsible and irresponsible.

4.  Watch for Potential Misunderstandings—If you choose to accept 100% responsibility for all misunderstandings, something interesting will happen. You will begin to see warning signs that you have previously overlooked. It may be the look on someone’s face, a comment they make, a distraction in the background, or something else that will give you pause to wonder if there is a potential miscommunication brewing.

5.  Confirm All Details and Put Them in Writing—When I am responsible for an event or task, I have learned to confirm all the details and put them in writing. As an example, if I have a call scheduled, I will confirm the date of the call, the time of the call, the time zone if appropriate, and who is responsible for initiating the call. Once it is confirmed, I put it on my calendar. Sure, this requires a little extra effort, but if it avoids misunderstandings, I have found it to be worthwhile.

6.  Ask Others to Repeat What They Heard—Another way to avoid misunderstandings is to ask people to repeat your instructions back to you. You might ask someone, “Bob, before we wrap up this call, can you please confirm your responsibilities as part of this project?” When you ask people to repeat what they heard, not only does it force them to articulate what you said in their own words, but it also significantly reduces the risk of a misunderstanding.

I hope today’s lesson motivates you to take notice of the clarity of your communications and the potential for misunderstandings. Watch for those red flags to avoid conflict or unpleasant situations. Consistent clearness of expression will have a lasting impact on all of your interactions.

When you accept personal responsibility for all miscommunications, the lessons you learn will increase your value to the market and make you a better person in the process.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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