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Ordinary People Taking Action
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As I go about my days, I’m met with frequent reminders of the difficulties we face when it comes to communication. As people, we all tend to believe that effective communication comes naturally to us. So, when there are misunderstandings, we are often quick to assume it’s the other person who doesn’t understand – that the miscommunication isn’t because of anything we’ve done.
When I am coaching professionals and students, we talk a lot about intention vs perception. Statistics report that 92% of humans wake up each morning with positive intention, meaning it is not our goal to create conflict. In fact, it’s the opposite. We have a goal (even if it’s unconscious) to build strong, harmonious relationships.
Yet, every single day, I see situations in which someone’s good intention is perceived differently.
Here are just a handful of examples.
A professional I was coaching told me about a tight deadline she and her team were facing. When it was just hours before the deadline, with work still to be done, she told a member of her team to go home. This employee had been sick, it was clear he wasn’t doing well, and her intention was to give him an opportunity to rest. The employee heard “go home” as an indication that his work and effort wasn’t appreciated. The miscommunication surfaced a couple days later during their scheduled 1:1 when the employee shared his feelings. He felt he’d been poorly treated at the end of the project.
A student I am coaching shared with me that he has a lot of internal pressure – and a strong feeling that nothing he does is good enough. When I asked him why, his response was that his parents always ask him: “What could you have done differently?” at the end of every project/situation. The student internalized this question as “you’re not good enough”. When I held our final coaching session with both the student and parents together, this situation came up. The parents said “Oh my. We don’t ask this question because you’re not good enough – we ask this because we just want you to stretch to think about things differently.” The student heard the question as “do better” not “do differently”.
Yesterday, a conference call was scheduled between two colleagues, and one colleague didn’t show up, with no acknowledgement of their absence. Still no explanation from the missed colleague almost 24-hours later. This creates an opportunity for all kinds of assumptions and imagined scenarios – that could lead to a lot of miscommunication.
In my own experience, there was confusion around sports practice for my son. I sent a text to the assistant coach asking for clarification about the location. The assistant coach responded that she wishes people would ask her to clarify before jumping to conclusions. She missed the entire point of the text, which was to clarify because there was confusion.
I often think that my job is like that of an editor. What editors tell me is that it’s almost impossible to turn off their editing brain when they read. They always see errors or misuse of grammar – even when they aren’t in “editing mode”. At the same time, they aren’t perfect, so their own writing has mistakes that they often miss. I feel this way in my world, yet it’s around communication. Around others, I see very clearly when there is a miscommunication happening – yet, I am not always able to step outside of my own experiences to see when the miscommunication is happening around me.
As I reflect on the examples I have shared, the communicators in each situation had positive intention, yet their intentions were not perceived that way.
Today, I encourage you to: