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A note about communication skills

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

David Specht does dispute resolution for FEMA, and has spent years working with clinicians as well. Here is what he has to say about communication:  When it comes to communication breakdowns, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • That you have said or written something does not guarantee that others have heard or read it and understood it.
  • What you hear or understand may not match what the other person thought they were saying or intending.

How then can we minimize misunderstanding and increase the likelihood that the communication we intend has actually happened?

  1. If it’s important information assume that you may need to communicate it more than once.
  2. Check to see if the message you communicated was received and understood. (“Hey, I want to make sure that what I just said wasn’t confusing. Can you play back what you heard?”) And also check to see if you have heard and understood what others say to you. (“Let me make sure that I’m understanding what you want. If I understand correctly, here is what you are asking for ….”)  Following up like this doesn’t take long and it allows us to clear up any misunderstandings right away.
  3. Follow up a conversation where you have worked with others to reach a decision by writing an email to summarize the decision and any next steps that you decided on.
  4. When communicating with others minimize the multi-tasking. When we are in a conversation or meeting with someone andresponding to our email or checking phone messages, we increase the likelihood that we will miss important information in ways that can later lead to misunderstanding. One task or conversation at a time almost always ends up being more efficient.
  5. When communication breakdowns or misunderstandings take place, often enough it’s because we haven’t completed the communication we began. When this happens, we might hear things like – “Why didn’t you share this information earlier?” Or “I thought we had decided that we were going to do it this way.” Or “That’s not what I said!” When we hear these things it’s a sign that we’ve taken each other by surprise, which can sometimes create problems.

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