Communication Matters—Say What?

by Jo Anne Nelson on September 26, 2011

Communication is critical to all high performing teams. It’s not just the words we say and how we say them. It’s also making sure that we are interpreting conversations and  words in the same way.

I was reminded of this while on vacation in France. We rented a car and were not going to take the GPS that was offered. The woman who was helping us at Hertz said she was going to give it to us anyway. Thank goodness she did! As we navigated through country roads that often looked like driveways, many times I doubted that we were on the right path. But we always ended up where we wanted to go.

One thing about the GPS reminded me of the importance of a building a common vocabulary on a team. Typically when we entered a road, we were told how far in kilometers we were to drive before the next turn. For example, “Stay on this road for 6 kilometers.” From time to time, though, the nice lady in the GPS would say, “Stay on this road for a LONG time.”

This struck me as funny. Being from the United States, I was certain that my interpretation of a long time was quite different than the interpretation of someone driving in rural France. Living on the Eastern seaboard, I can essentially get on an interstate and drive from Washington DC to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or even Alaska. That is my idea of a long time.

Teams that consistently perform at the highest levels take the time to make sure that they are interpreting words and conversations in the same way. They don’t leave it to chance that interpretations of ‘a long time’ are the same. They ask questions to confirm a mutual understanding of the purpose and specifics intended by the words they are using.

What does your team do? Do you just assume that everyone is interpreting conversations and words in the same way? Or are you slowing down to confirm a common understanding so you can move quickly forward toward achieving your goals?

If you’re making assumptions and assuming everyone else on your team interprets conversations and words exactly as you do, it’s time to stop and open clarifying discussions. For a long time.

Jo Anne Nelson

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