When speaking with loved ones and colleagues, I’ve caught myself thinking many times “I’ve told you this already/multiple times/don’t you listen/am I dreaming that I told you this?” Please tell me I’m not the only one!?
I recently attended the Healthcare Leadership Forum, an event sponsored by one of my clients. Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP, Director of the Graduate Medical Education Clinical Learning Environment Innovation and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago (she’s smart, accomplished and so cool) gave an engaging presentation on team communication and care transition in the healthcare realm. Despite the focus on the healthcare sector, her points are meaningful in any environment.
Who would you say you have the most miscommunications or misunderstandings with in your life? Dr. Arora asked the audience this and the overwhelming majority said, “my spouse,” with a chuckle, of course.
Dr. Arora shared that we most frequently have miscommunications with those closest to us (It may be our spouse, parent or coworkers.) because we make assumptions about the amount and clarity of message retention. And we all know what happens when we assume!
“Speakers typically overestimate how well their messages are understood by listeners, while senders assume that the receiver has the same knowledge they do,” she said.
Miscommunications and misunderstandings are frustrating and time consuming as we all know. I know I can always do a better job of being thorough and clear in my communications, especially at work. So how do we achieve that?
The human brain can only remember four to five items, according to Dr. Arora and recent studies. Given this, she suggests “chunking” information. Give the top, related salient points you are trying to relay in small groups of information.
“Read back” is also helpful. You can ask the person you’re speaking with to reiterate their takeaways from the discussion. As this can come off as somewhat belittling in a personal, non-work related conversation (maybe that’s just my opinion, but if my husband said to me “okay, now tell me what I just said to you,” I’d likely laugh at him), I prefer to just interactively recap. End the discussion with brief points, takeaways and next steps and avoid information overload.
Also, be sure to minimize distractions. If your husband is watching TV and you’re trying to discuss the phone bill, odds are he’s not going to retain a lot. If you’re trying to assign a task to a coworker and she’s furiously fielding emails with her eyes glued to the computer screen while you’re speaking, she’s barely going to capture anything you said. Put yourself in an environment with little to no distractions, and make sure you’re receiving “good listening” cues such as nodding, solid eye contact and directed posture.
Some of these points can seem basic or given. However, I have to ask myself how often I actually practice them. It takes effort to communicate effectively and sometimes busyness can override best practices. Save yourself and your colleagues and loved ones time and possible annoyances in the long run by making the effort upfront when communicating.