I swear that most of what is wrong in the world today is due not so much to the lack of communication, but the lack of finding the right way to deliver information.
Whenever I took on a new job, the first thing I asked my boss was how he/she wanted his/her information delivered; i.e., do I come in and tell you what’s going on, or do I send you an email to read that explains what’s going on? I would say that, over the course of 40-some years of working, people were just about half and half.
(However, the half that wanted their information documented nearly always got peeved about having to look for it in their over-cluttered email file. Even if I gave them a new copy, they usually said, ‘just tell me what it says.’ The old saying, ‘the boss may be wrong, but the boss is still the boss’ is true.)
It really has everything to do with how we take in information, and how we process it. For example, my husband (the Crankee Yankee) is a linear thinker. When presenting him with a new idea on how to do something, I have learned to speak in “1, 2, 3” format: 1) here is the issue, 2) here is what I want you to know about it, and 3) here is how I would like you to help me with it.
Linear thinkers like him need to have information presented to them in a way that they can hear, in order, from beginning to end. If you don’t present it in that way, they stop hearing you quickly because you didn’t fully explain #1. Their mind is saying, ‘wait, wait–go back to that first bit–I’m not sure I understand what you mean.’ Nothing wrong with that–it’s just that you have to figure out first that they are linear thinkers. After that, it’s all cake.
Now my best friend and I are anything but linear thinkers. Since we have known each other for such a long time, and have many shared memories, anecdotes, jokes, etc. together—our chats are all over the place. When she and I, the Crankee Yankee and his brother (married to my aforementioned best friend) get together, the guys just shake their heads when they hear us talking.
To them, it’s all gobbledegook—so they have learned not to even try to understand, and usually just leave us to it. When it comes to communication in general, the trick is picking up on what kind of thinker we’re dealing with, and how to communicate. Knowing this up front saves a lot of time and frustration.
When I was a lot younger and was going on interviews for jobs, I would get irritated by interviewers asking me what I had done for past work. I thought, ‘it’s all in the resume; why don’t they just read it?’ It took a few years and a few failed interviews for me to understand that the interviewer wanted me to tell him/her more about myself and how I worked vs. just reading my resume.
I am definitely a reader. While I can get information from listening, I don’t truly ‘get’ it until I see it in writing, or if I take notes and then write it all down. In working with other people, I had to learn to be flexible until I sussed out how the other person took in information. Once that was established, I knew how to deal with them.
After that it’s a lot easier to communicate without the frustration factor that often comes into play when one human tries to talk with another human. I found that, by taking the time up front to figure this out, saved me a lot of frustration. If we really want to connect with someone, it’s well worth taking the time to get a feel for how they listen.
Here is a handy tip I learned a long time ago, too—if you are talking with someone and you see that their eyes are glazing over, you will know one of three things: 1) they aren’t understanding you, 2) they just aren’t interested in what you’re talking about, or 3) you are boring them. In either case, it’s good to know when to just shut up.