Did They Hear What You Think You Said?
Recently a reader wrote me asking a question that plagues team leaders and managers everywhere: “What do you do when your team didn’t hear what you think you said?”
Can you empathize?
You roll out the new process and ask if there are any questions. You’re met with blank stares and silence. One person tries to be helpful and shakes their head “no.” So you let everyone get back to work.
A week goes by and five people have implemented the new plan five different ways while one person hasn’t done anything.
The Meaning of Silence
I watch managers waste hours every week on these sorts of miscommunications. This problem happens when you mistake silence for assent.
Silence doesn’t mean anything. It’s just silence. Your six people all think they heard you. You think you communicated clearly, but you don’t actually know.
The good news is that you can end these misunderstandings and reclaim that lost time with one simple tool.
Save Time, Frustration, and Headaches
It’s called a ‘check for understanding.’
Whenever a conversation concludes, make sure everyone is on the same page. You might say any of the following depending on the meeting:
“I want to make sure I communicated clearly: what are the three things we’re doing this week?”
“Let’s make sure we’re on the same page: when are each of our assignments due?”
“Great discussion! Let’s do a check for understanding: what are the three priorities we just agreed to?”
When you ask the ‘check for understanding’ questions, you’ll discover where people misunderstood or missed a key point. Clarify, then do another quick check. This is the key part of a successful ‘check for understanding’: the other person gives you back what you intended for them to receive.
When you do a check for understanding, use an upbeat, encouraging tone. You don’t want to come across as patronizing or belittling.
This one tool will help you avoid misunderstandings and the hours you’d otherwise spend following up on errors. It gives you a clear foundation for accountability conversations when you need to have them. Finally, it serves your team – they won’t waste time doing the wrong thing.
Everyone wins – not bad for 60 seconds of communication clarity!