Clear Up Blurry Communication

One of the top brewing companies in America is a consulting client of mine. However, during a seminar for a brewery management team, we were jolted by a "communication wake-up call." We discovered that even though co-workers speak the same words, they don't attach the same meanings. Here's what happened. I asked people to write a list of simple words, such as often, sometimes, never, and usually. Then I asked them to put a percentage value next to each. For example, if I say, "He is often late for meetings," what does often mean? 10% of the time? 50%? 75%? Etc.

The range of answers was amazing. Often went from 5 to 97%. Sometimes was 20 to 80%. Even never was 0 to 100%, with a fourth of the people saying it was somewhere in-between! We were amazed because we assumed everyone in the room put about the same meaning on those simple, everyday words. After all, this was the management team and they worked closely together. I've lead this exercise with over 200 groups working in offices, factories, hospitals, education, sales situations, even government. Incredibly, the results are wide-ranging, even among well-educated people who communicate regularly with each other.

What does this mean to you? It's helpful to keep this communication phenomenon in mind when you speak with customers, make presentations, compose e-mails, memos, reports, instructions, or ask for assistance. Make your communication clearer by using numbers in place of words, illustrating with specific examples, and asking clarifying questions. Define critical terms and spell out expectations. It's smart to recognize that we may speak the same words but not say the same things.

Doug Smart is the coauthor of "Sell Smarter." He is a sales consultant, professional speaker, and host of the daily motivational radio show, "Smarter by the Minute." For more information, email [email protected]. Copyright 2005 by Doug Smart

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