ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - January 2002


Issue Highlight — Teams Are Awesome!
-In Teams Are Awesome! -- We offer you the power, energy, and innovation that come out of teams working together to improve their work, their work environment, and, as often as not, themselves. They truly inspire awe. Here we present four teams selected at random from those who have entered AQP's Team Excellence Competition.

Connected But Not Connecting
What Ever Happened To The Art Of Communication? Why Can’t Anyone Understand What I’m Saying?

We are more connected today than ever before, but still not connecting. Since the beginning of time, people have used all sorts of communication tools to connect with one another. From hand signs, clay tablets, and letters delivered by pony express to today’s voice mail, e-mail, palm pilots, cell phones, and pagers, individuals have attempted to convey messages in the most expedient way possible. Imagine what a daunting task it must have been for ancient peoples to communicate without a ready supply of translating services, books, and even online multi-language translators. Now we are faced with an even greater number of challenges to communication including, but not limited to: age, gender, cultural differences, language barriers, education, and experiences. People are “talking” locally and globally. So how can we overcome some of these barriers to get our messages heard?

   Communication generally happens automatically, often resulting in too little thought as to not only what is said, but how it is said. George Bernard Shaw once said, “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” The next time you deliver a message, consider the following:

  • Do you know what it is that you are trying to accomplish?
  • What is your purpose and goal?
  • How well do you know your audience?
  • What are the benefits for your audience of what you have to say?
  • Are you using the most efficient tool(s) possible to communicate?
  • Have you identified potential obstacles?

   Do you know that approximately 10 percent of all communication is verbal and nearly 90 percent is non-verbal, e.g., voice, eyes, and facial and body gestures? More and more communication is sent electronically without the benefit of non-verbal communication. Think about how people will perceive you and the message you’re sending. The true meaning of your messages that are not delivered face-to-face are left to a great deal of interpretation. People will naturally read between the lines and make assumptions about the real intent. Be clear, review your messages before they are sent, and be sensitive to others.

   Everyone receives communication differently based on his or her personal perspective. Of the 14,000 words commonly spoken on a daily basis, there are 800 different meanings. The word “ring” to a young man or woman recently engaged might mean a wedding ring; a mother of young children may think about the ring that gets left around the tub; and a angry customer trying to reach a company’s customer service department may wonder how many times the phone will ring before someone answers. Words also have different meanings and relevance for each generation. A 13-year-old probably would probably not associate a “45” with a vinyl record. In fact, she or he might not even know there ever was such a thing.

   Communication is further complicated when gender is thrown into the mix. Most women speak twice as many words in a day as the typical male. A man might say “thank you” while a woman will say, “Thank you so much; you really didn’t need to do that.” A man might say, “Please get me the action file.” while a woman might say, “I hope it’s not an imposition, but when you have time, could you please bring the action file?” It is seldom obvious that women have a tendency to be apologetic when they speak. Neither form of communication is better than the other—it’s just the way it is!

   They are nodding yes, but just to be polite—language barriers can present yet another obstacle. Are you asking open-ended questions to ensure that the individual who speaks another language has understood you correctly? Most of the time when someone is either hearing impaired or speaks a foreign language they indicate they understand even when they don’t. The same is true in the workplace when a subordinate is receiving information from a supervisor. Individuals fail to admit they didn’t understand to avoid the embarrassment of asking that the information be repeated or admitting that they didn’t understand what was said in the first place. Appreciating these and other differences is critical to getting our message across.

   Understanding your objective and potential obstacles are not the only things to consider. Communication is two-way. Failing to listen is probably the number one problem associated with miscommunication. Become an active listener. It is important to paraphrase and summarize key points to validate that you have understood the real intent and meaning of what others are saying. Listen completely without making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Ask questions and remember to listen for answers. Watch for the non-verbal cues. Are they congruent with the message?

   Finally, with the smorgasbord of communication tools that exist today, selecting the most appropriate medium to use in delivering your message, e.g., face-to-face communication, letter, e-mail, or voicemail, can make a huge difference. When selecting the best medium to use to communicate, consider the personal or confidential nature of the message, the number of people with whom you are trying to communicate, cost, accessibility, your position/role, and your audience.

   When sending e-mails, remember that they are permanent and nothing is sacred. Any e-mail sent can be transmitted to someone else and all e-mails, sent or otherwise, can be obtained from the server. Be reflective. Read the message carefully before sending it to be sure everything you wanted to include has been included, words are spelled correctly, the intent is clear, and that all the appropriate parties have been copied on the e-mail. Never send anything in haste. Don’t forget attachments. Keep people in the loop by copying all who need to know. Written messages should use words that are simple, clear, and concise. Keep sentences short, avoiding the use of jargon that might not be familiar to others. In using voicemail, make sure a clear message is left so that the receiving party can respond and avoid phone tag. Be sure to spell your name and repeat your telephone number slowly.

   If the communication is not face-to-face, what accommodations will you make to compensate for the lack of non-verbal communication? If the majority of communication is non-verbal, the true meaning of your messages that are not delivered face-to-face will be left to a great deal of interpretation. People will naturally read between the lines and make assumptions about the real intent. Be clear, review your messages before they are sent, and be sensitive to others.

   Open, honest communication is always the best communication. Take time to listen, understand others, and appreciate diversity. Take responsibility for how you are communicating. You can make a difference.

CINDY CHERNOW is a professional speaker, career consultant, and trainer. For further information, please visit her Web site at: .

January 2002 News for a Change Homepage

In This Issue...
Fish Philosophy and Teamwork
Connected But Not Connecting
Thriving Through Teamwork
Ten Compelling Reasons Why Your Company Shouldn’t Downsize

Peter Block Column

Brief Cases

Return to NFC Index

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