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Insights on business, and practical ways to improve your own.

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Directional Signals: Who's Talking, Who's Listening?

How to avoid communication snafus.

by Kate (September, 2003)

(Note: Kate is a mid-level exec at an industry related company and writes on management issues.)

You've finally made it into the office after a very frustrating drive. None of the other drivers seemed to know how to use their directional signals. Some didn't turn them on at all, changing lanes and taking corners without warning; others used their signals but never changed lanes, oblivious to the blinking light. Did they think you could read their minds?

Now think of your ability to communicate with co-workers and employees as if you were using directional signals. Do you use your signals properly, or are you just as guilty as those drivers, expecting others to read your mind?

Do you answer questions directly or evasively? Do you make it clear who is responsible for completing a specific task and the others are included as an FYI? Or do you assume everyone knows their roles?

Do you answer questions without understanding what you're really being asked, then end up with something completely different than what you wanted? Do you speak without listening to what you're saying, or send emails and memos without proofreading them? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you're not using your directional signals properly.

Listening.

Communication is a two-way street, of course, and requires listening or reading, too. Do you read or just skim, do you just hear or really listen? As frustrating as it is to not receive clear instructions or complete information, it's just as frustrating to supply all the necessary information and have it overlooked. If someone leaves your office and you can't remember what was said by either of you, this should be a huge red flag.

When you talk with someone, do you make eye contact and really listen, or are you busy on your computer, looking at others, or shuffling papers? Unless you're truly focused on what is being said, those communication directional signals aren't being used correctly.

I attended a meeting the other day in which the graphics department was held accountable for missing an ad deadline. We'd been given copies of a detailed memo a couple weeks prior to the deadline, and everyone had that memo with them during the meeting. The head graphics person read from a notepad of issues that had caused the delay. With the exception of requiring a product re-shoot, every other issue had been fully explained in the original memo.

The more evident it became that the memo had been skimmed, rather than used as a reference tool, the more the tension increased. If the assistant had really read the memo, the problem could have been avoided.

In all fairness to this employee and all others in my company and yours, the workloads we have do not balance out with the allotted time we have to do them. However, if we all used our directional signals -- our communication skills -- more carefully and consistently, we'd stop wasting time on a highway roundabout and instead find ourselves cruising down a roadblock-free expressway.

(Note: To read Kate's previous columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. Have any comments about stolen designs or products? Email Kate at katescollagecln@aol.com.)

xxx

 

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