Ah, the joy of working on a project with great people!! Two weeks ago, I worked on a project with some colleagues who I really like. That’s awesome you say. Good for you. Right. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it was also not awesome. There were significant periods of time which I spent frustrated, irritated and confused. Why? These colleagues are my friends! These are people I genuinely like. They are smart, funny, knowledgeable, generous, and interesting. So what was the problem? A lack of communication. Interesting. I wasn’t expecting this issue. Communication is a tricky chickadee in the sense that we communicate all day long and every day but it’s easy to get it wrong.
As I reflect back on the week, I’m actually really grateful for the moments of frustration because they reminded me of a few really important points about communicating:
- First and most importantly: You need to be pro-actively engaged in the communication. We are always communicating – but if we aren’t pro-actively engaged we can be communicating the wrong the message and/or the message can easily be unclear. For example, as I’m writing this article and my husband is standing on the other side of the room asking me questions. It’s annoying me. In order to convey to him that I want to write this, I reply with one word answers and without looking up from the computer. He keeps talking, he keeps asking me questions. I snap. I look up and say “I’m trying to write this, is there anything you need urgently now? If not, can I finish this and talk to you later”? Ewww! That doesn’t sound how I want to sound… Never-the-less, he responds very well and we agreed to talk later. Now, he’s doing something he wants to do and I’m happily writing this. Win-win. I could have avoided my less than desirable “snap” if I would have taken three seconds and pro-actively engaged in communicating. Be in the moment and present when you communicate – you’ll communicate the right messages, more effectively, and likely without snapping!
- Next, more is better. Maybe you are afraid of over-communicating. You don’t want to repeat yourself. You don’t want to seem needy. You aren’t. Listen and share feedback often. People have millions of thoughts going through their heads at any given moment. Most of the time, we need to hear things at least three times before we really take them in. Also, things change. Rapidly. The better you get at sharing what is going on with you (frequently), the less time people will waste making assumptions or being wrong about what you are saying/feeling/doing!
- Don’t make assumptions. You need to ask and listen. We think we know each other. Sometimes it can be seen as a badge of love or friendship to be able to make an assumption. We say things like “I know you so well, we are always on the same page”. But the truth is, when it comes to most things, you can’t be sure unless you ask. You waste time on being anxious, or fearful over things you don’t need to be. You waste time being wrong and doing the wrong things. All because you don’t ask and listen. If you don’t hear and understand the other person, it’s not communication. It’s really as simple as that.
- Just because you respect yourself doesn’t mean it has to be all about you. Allow space for the person you are communicating with. I have seen people who appear to be afraid that if they allow for what another person wants or they allow a person to take a different approach to something, they are missing an opportunity to express who they are. We get caught with thoughts along the lines of: if I don’t cut that difference off and express who I am, I’m not contributing. That’s BS – we live in a world that is based on our connections to other people. When you are communicating with anyone, listen and don’t judge. Don’t be afraid that you might have to do something someone else’s way and that this will somehow take something from you. Seeing things from another person’s perspective expands you – it makes you greater. Embrace this.
- Finally, confidently express what you are thinking/planning/wanting. It may be hard because many of us aren’t conditioned to do this. We have this incorrect notion that to express what we want is somehow offensive or will make people not like us. So, instead we hold back and leave others to make assumptions. Most people actually want to help or at the very least not to hinder. Saying what you want allows them to do that, allows everyone to feel good, and it is likely to prevent snapping (see above!). Expressing what you are feeling and wanting vastly improves the chances of great things happening. It makes it easier for someone to help you and saves time wasted on misunderstandings.
So, let’s all keep each other injury free!! I want to end this by saying thank you to my working group for bringing to mind these these fantastic reminders. I also want to hear from you! How would cutting down on frustration, irritation, and confusion make you like your job more?