Assumptions that kill communication

I spend a lot of time thinking about communication. I do this because a good chunk of what I do each day is communicate, with clients and with my team. Over the years I have noticed a growing trend where good communication seems to be getting harder. Weird, I know. We have more ways to communicate now than ever before and somehow in the midst of this arsenal of communication tools I still feel like good communication (and by good I mean that both parties fully understand one another) rarely happens. Here are a few assumptions that tend to drive poor communication.

Assumptions that kill communication.

  • The assumption that communication has happened without verification of that assumption. For example, I have a really important message to communicate to a client, so I send them an email and then assume that they got it. I don’t bother to verify that they got it. I don’t call to confirm, or ask them in my email communication to verify receipt by replying to me, I just figure that the extreme reliability of the internet and technology is flawless and I have no need to double check. This is a tragic mistake.
  • The assumption that you and the person that you are talking to are talking about the same thing. We all work on complex projects in complex jobs in complex companies in a world that is known for its own sort of complexity. Jumping into a conversation about something without first making sure that you are both talking about the same subject matter is like trying to talk to your wife about the merits of your favorite date night restaurent when you are talking about a greasy burger joint and she is talking about one of those all salad restaurants. The conversation is likely to be a bit frustrating.
  • The assumption of responsiveness. We live in a digital age of instant communication. Most people are on their phones 24/7 answering email, text, facebook messages, etc. Somehow we have gotten rather accustomed to this instant access to one another and forget that there are things like days off for other people, or families to spend time with, or even books to read and movies to watch. So, when a communication is sent and an instant answer is not received, frustration ensues. And unless you are superman or something, as frustration goes up, communication skills go down.
  • The assumption of intent. Assuming that we know someone else’s intent during (or before) we communicate with them is dangerous. For example, I got an email this weekend from a client that simply said, “Please call me on Monday.” My first thought was, oh great, they are unhappy and going to complain about something. But in thinking that, I was assuming that this client’s intent in talking with me is negative when is very well may be just to touch base or to clarify something about the project.
  • The assumption of understanding. Assuming that the person that you are talking to is fully understanding you and that you are fully understanding them is a dangerous assumption. I always like to listen to a client, and then say “let me repeat back to you what I just heard to be sure that I have full understanding.” Then I repeat it back to them, they clarify if I missed something and we are both confident that we have good understanding between one another. Just assuming the person you are speaking with understands you is like chunking a baseball at someone without being sure they are looking. They might make a spectacular catch (because your throw sucked) or they might walk away with a black eye (because they weren’t paying enough attention).

These are just a few assumptions that I believe drive poor communication. There are more to be certain. What did I miss? Want to add, clarify, or rebuke one of my assertions?

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