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
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- Working Journals
- Keeping a journal about your work can change how you work. You can record why you did what you did,
and why you didn't do what you didn't. You can record what you saw and what you only thought you saw.
And when you read the older entries, you can see patterns you might never have noticed any other way.
- Accepting Reality
- Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization.
Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.
- Wacky Words of Wisdom
- Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules.
We do tend to over-generalize them, though, and when we do, trouble follows. Here are a few of the more
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: II
- Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases —
let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content,
even when what they contain is little more than "um."
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 26: Unintended Condescension: II
- Intentionally making condescending remarks is something most of us do only when we lose control. But anyone at any time can inadvertently make a remark that someone else experiences as condescending. We explored two patterns to avoid last time. Here are two more. Available here and by RSS on February 26.
- And on March 4: Workplace Remorse
- Remorse is an unpleasant emotion. But it need not be something we suppress or avoid. It can provide a path to a positive learning experience that adds meaning to life. Available here and by RSS on March 4.
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- 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.
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