Lessons In Leadership: Blaming Miscommunication On Your Team

Miscommunication is one of the biggest reasons for unnecessary friction points in any organization. Miscommunication leads to misunderstanding, which leads to the tasks not being accomplished, or the accomplishment of the wrong tasks. Too often, the person giving the direction blames the person receiving the direction for the misunderstanding. This is totally backwards as the person giving the direction is the sole person responsible to make sure they are fully understood. I have been totally guilty of placing the misguided blame onto others, but luckily, due to the strong personalities on my team, I learned very quickly where the blame should have gone.

I’ve been on the other side too. I’ve been given tasks that, to me, were highly confusing… which I then completely botched. The reason these tasks got FUBAR’ed, is because I was too afraid to ask questions about the task for fear of looking stupid or incompetent. Well, I found out that not achieving the mission was a far more guaranteed way to look incompetent than asking a couple questions.

So that being said, here are some tips I learned to avoid miscommunication in a task giving/receiving construct:

Giving Direction:

1) Speak clearly, concisely and don’t use unnecessary big words.

2) Watch the receiver’s body language, if they come off as unsure, they probably are. Ask them if they are tracking what you are saying. If they aren’t, explain it better.

3) Don’t assume everyone knows the acronyms, idioms, or other lingo you are using. Just because you and your MBA class used them, doesn’t mean the person who worked in the company their whole life knows what you are talking about. Further, don’t assume context, the way you see things, may not be the same way your team sees things.

4) If the task is simple ask for any questions to clear things up, and then a quick back brief right then and there. Be sure the receiver is walking away with the rightunderstanding of what your direction is. If it’s more complicated, ask for questions, and then ask for a back brief at a later time, once they had some time to digest everything.

5) Ask the receiver confirmatory questions. This isn’t a deposition, you aren’t trying to trip them up. You are asking questions with the intent of confirming they are picking up what you are putting down. If they demonstrate a misunderstanding, explain it better.

Receiving Direction:

1) Take notes.

2) If you don’t understand something, ask questions and make sure it is clear in your head before walking away.

3) If your boss doesn’t ask you already, ask to give them a back brief, so that you can make sure you are on the same page before you really get started on the task.

4) The key things you need to make sure you totally understand are: The boss’s intent, the end state, the restrictions and constraints, and the resources available to you. If these aren’t absolutely clear, ask questions until they are.

Just remember, both the leader and the follower are vested in making sure the mission or task is accomplished. It is the responsibility of the leader to make sure the task is completely understood and it is the responsibility of the follower to make sure they let the leader know when they are unclear of what is being asked of them.

These are just some tips from my own experience, if you have any of your own, please add them to the comments section.

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