Every day, and possibly many times each day, we encounter situations in which we can choose how we respond. Often, we make the choice that seems to lead to the shortest path to our preferred outcome. Unfortunately, many of these paths have obstacles along the way that become evident only when we encounter them. In analogy to driving a car or a scooter or a motorcycle, or riding a bicycle, we choose paths that have speed bumps. Speed bumps are most noticeable when we've already driven over them. Too late then for slowing down to do any good.
The good news is that many speed bumps are avoidable, with just a little care. This post is the beginning of a little catalog of choices that might lead to better outcomes if we watch for speed bumps.
- Notify me either way
- It's risky to arrange with others to notify you (by text or voice) if X occurs, or not to notify you if Y occurs. Instead, arrange for them to notify you either way.
- One problem with no-notification-if-Y is that no notification is indistinguishable from other ways you could fail to be notified. For example, the notification text or email might not go through. Or your partner might have forgotten to tell you that X occurred. Or you might have forgotten to check your messages. Or a million other things.
- Have your partner notify you either way. Much safer.
- Make semi-permanent notes
- Important but tiny bits of information come our way all day. We commit most of them to memory — call home, send that text to the Cleveland office, jump through this or that hoop, and so on. We commit them to memory, but our memory isn't always as good as we need it to be. We err so often that the phrases "fell through the cracks," and "dropped the ball," are familiar.
- Instead of Speed bumps are most noticeable when
we've already driven over them. Too late
then for slowing down to do any good.trying to remember these numerous tiny bits of information, write them down. Key them or voice them into the notes app on your smartphone if you're fast enough. If not, write them on actual paper with an actual pen. Although a written record is more reliable than memory, you can still commit them to memory if you like. I like spiral notebooks for this purpose — steno size at my desk, or small cards when I'm moving about.
- Another advantage of committing this information to writing is that you're creating a record. You can review that record later if you need to, to resolve a mix-up, or to confirm that you did or didn't do something. And you can use the data to improve your personal process by learning to anticipate error-generating patterns that might otherwise escape notice.
- Doing nothing, at least for now, is an often-overlooked choice. Letting the situation evolve by leaving space for others to act can change things enough to open new paths forward that you might not have recognized. Or worse, your own action might have obscured paths that would have been revealed if you had waited.
- Waiting is an especially powerful move when you sense that the situation could evolve into something for which you have in mind a very workable response.
- "I agree"
- Use this simple statement to avoid several other troublesome approaches to expressing agreement. The troubled ones go something like, "Correct," or "That's right," or "True," or "100% correct." The problem with these ways of expressing agreement is that they do much more than express agreement. They also claim that in the context of the present discussion the speaker has authority to adjudicate Truth. They place the speaker in the position of evaluating the opinion of the speaker's partner. To the speaker's partner, this can feel like a usurpation of authority for the purpose of evaluating the personhood of others.
- Sometimes we say, "Correct" to avoid the ambiguity of "Right," a word that we also use for direction, as in left/right. That's an example of the language causing us to make an innocent choice that has unfortunate consequences. Sigh.
- A simple "I agree" will suffice.
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Nasty Questions: I
- Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather,
they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's
political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Virtual Presentations
- Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations,
often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires
an approach tailored to the medium.
- The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: I
- In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances
can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.
- Anticipate Counter-Communication
- Effective communication enables two parties to collaborate. Counter-communication is information provided
by a third party that contradicts the basis of agreements or undermines that collaboration.
- They Just Don't Understand
- When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others.
The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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