What dots, you ask? The “dots” between what you said and the other person’s interpretation of what you said.
If you’re like most people you walk around with an underlying belief that most people think like you do. Another way of saying it is, you assume everyone has the same frame of reference as you do. And you would be right about certain things. For example, if you say the word “car,” it’s likely that the person you are speaking with understands what you mean. But even though the concept “car” (4-wheeled motor vehicle) is the same, the type, model, color, etc. will likely be different depending on each person’s experience with a car.
Now imagine instead of the concept “car” you are talking about teamwork or leadership or communication or customer service or any other popular workplace concept. Each person’s experience will determine how he or she “connects the dots” or, said another way, interprets the word’s meaning, e.g., how a football team operates is very different from how a baseball team or a tennis team or a crew team operates.
Unfortunately, when we are talking with another we don’t inquire into their understanding of the word or concept. Instead, we just speak as if there is only one concept and we both have it. There is so much assuming going on it’s a miracle effective communication ever occurs.
This doesn’t just happen with broad concepts. It happens in virtually all communications, from telling your child to clean his or her room to asking an employee to complete a task to asking for assistance from a colleague. You assume they know what you meant and therefore you don’t clarify it. You don’t ask, “What is your understanding of what I said?”
If you want to avoid the frustration, stress and costly breakdowns of miscommunication, start making sure you “connect the dots” for people. Take the extra step of clarifying what you meant and what they heard. It will save you headaches as well as money.
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