Fundamental of the Week 9: Communicate to Be Understood
Communicate in the least complicated way, so that your audience understands you. This applies to all communication: Spoken, written, illustrated, etc. We are accountable for what people take from our communication.
I worked on a consulting project for a mining company in Indonesia from 1999 to 2001. My job was to improve the working efficiency of a number of their production teams. At the top two levels of the organization, the English was excellent; however, as I dropped down the next three levels where we could make the biggest difference, the English was far less proficient, and I did not speak the Indonesian language. It quickly became obvious that I was not getting my communications across to these people.
In an attempt to communicate, I began speaking in a simpler format. I got over my fear that the different work teams, many of whom were engineers, might feel insulted by my speaking so simply to them. I went back to using language structure from my grade school readers for a lot of sentence construction. And it worked! I could tell it worked by what they were saying back to me. After a few months, I learned to speak English like they did. It was like learning to speak again. It was quite an epiphany to hear how these lovely people constructed their speaking, and I began to model it.
I left with a whole new appreciation for speaking to be understood. I also left with a much greater awareness that being understood is my accountability; that whatever my audience leaves the conversation with is in reality “what I said,” regardless of how clear I think I was. On the flip side, I also realized I was accountable for understanding words, my interpretation of them, and the intent of other people’s communications to me. I work at this daily, and it makes all the difference.
I truly believe that speaking to be understood has saved much re-work, and more importantly, many relationships over the years.