Overcoming an urge to slap his own forehead, Jesse realized that they'd wasted the past six weeks. Just to be sure, he asked, "Courtney, are you saying, for example, that the Tier 2 languages aren't needed until Q3 next year?"
"Yes. I don't know how to be clearer. No Tier 2 languages till Q3 next year." Courtney was cool on the outside, but really steamed inside. She looked across the table at Miguel, and nodding slightly, replayed in her mind what he'd said on the way over: "These guys are genetically incapable of delivering anything within a decade of the plan date."
"I see," Jesse continued. "When you said 'full compliance with the spec Rev 2.07,' we thought you meant 'full compliance with the entire spec Rev 2.07,' which included languages. Now I understand that you meant only 'full compliance with the networking spec Rev 2.07."
We can't control
what others do
with what we sayMix-ups like this cost real money. One small word — 'entire' vs. 'networking' — made all the difference. Here are some reasons why the receiver might not receive the message the sender sends:
- Wandering attention
- We get distracted, and don't listen carefully. Or sometimes, we don't feel the need to listen.
- We assume that our first interpretation is correct
- This can happen because we anticipate or have pre-set expectations. Sometimes receivers even "repair" the message they receive, because it makes no sense as received.
- Differences in usage
- Sender and receiver might use the language differently. Perhaps they're a different sex, or in a different profession, as Jesse and Courtney are, or have different native languages.
- Past associations
- Our personal history with concepts, people, procedures, or technologies can be misleading.
- Anticipated discounting or padding
- Receivers might discount estimates or promises, because of past experience with the sender or with others. Or senders, anticipating a discount, might inflate estimates or promises differently from the receiver's discount.
And sometimes we just make mistakes. It's all very frustrating, and tempers can flare.
Language is ambiguous. When we're stressed or hurrying to save time, we don't check carefully enough for unrecognized ambiguity. But we can reduce the effects of message mismatches if we keep two ideas in mind.
- We can't control what others do with what we say
- Once the words are out, it's up to the hearer (or reader) to interpret them. We'll feel better about unexpected interpretations if we give up the idea that we control how people interpret our words.
- Let others check it out
- When we hear, "Let me see if I've got this right," we sometimes feel as if our competence or integrity is in doubt. But if we can learn to interpret this as a simple verification of understanding, we gain a valuable tool for preventing misunderstanding.
And you can check it out, too. Whether you're receiving or sending, you can uncover message mismatches with examples, what-ifs, restatements, and even humor. Whenever you try, you'll almost surely uncover at least some tiny differences. The time to worry is when you don't. Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenRENAZtODIHdAZiCxner@ChacJpmyFVSbOWWaBdXRoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question,
we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
- When Stress Strikes
- Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But
when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes
in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.
- Sixteen Overload Haiku
- Most of us have some experience of being overloaded and overworked. Many of us have forgotten what it
is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of
the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities
just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
- Intentionally Unintentional Learning
- Intentional learning is learning we undertake by choice, usually with specific goals. When we're open
to learning not only from those goals, but also from whatever we happen upon, what we learn can have
far greater impact.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
- And on November 29: Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenOgciErUVplhbGEAUner@ChacjtUCmVwSPjHAFqiuoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- "Rick is a dynamic presenter who thinks on his feet to keep the material relevant to the
— Tina L. Lawson, Technical Project Manager, BankOne (now J.P. Morgan Chase)
- "Rick truly has his finger on the pulse of teams and their communication."
— Mark Middleton, Team Lead, SERS