Many of us take pride in expressing ourselves clearly and precisely to achieve effective communication. Of course this is a worthy pursuit . . . but oh, if it were only that easy. The communication equation has two sides and if the communication is not received accurately, then it is not effective. “That’s not my fault,” says the speaker. “I was specific and clear.” End of discussion? Not yet.
Here’s a workplace story to illustrate the point.
Jack owns a small home construction and remodeling business. He started the business on his own with one helper at his side. After fifteen years the business has grown to employ twelve people. Jack is well organized, reliable, takes pride in his craftsmanship, and is very businesslike in his dealings with customers and subcontractors. People like working with him because they know where they stand.
As the business grew, Jack stepped back from doing the hands on work to strictly managing the projects and the business. Although he missed swinging a hammer, he loved managing the organization and projects. He has good organizational skills. As he became less involved with working alongside his crews, however, problems began to emerge.
This was Jack’s complaint. “I take a lot of time daily to plan and organize the next day’s work. I make detailed lists of tasks and time frames. Each morning I gather the crew and go over each task in detail to anticipate potential problems. I’m specific, clear, and precise, but when I check back later in the day, I find several things done in ways that are unacceptable. It’s as if no one listened or deliberately ignored my instructions. I’m beginning to wonder if there is some kind of passive-aggressive thing going on.”
Before getting into big words like “passive-aggressive,” I suggested we approach the situation from a communication standpoint. Jack is very linguistically, logically oriented. He speaks clearly and is precise, and well organized. However, he was dealing with a crew, most of whom are hands-on (kinesthetic) and visually-spatially oriented.
So we developed a different strategy for the morning meetings. Rather than lists (linguistic, logical), Jack made diagrams (visual-spatial) with captions and arrows. Instead of standing in one place to give instructions, he walked through the house with the crew, to show (kinesthetic) them via demonstration whenever possible what he wanted done.
By accounting for others’ styles, Jack had better communication with his crew, cut down significantly on mistakes, and improved his working relationships. The passive-aggressive hypothesis evaporated as Jack became more flexible and recognized the other half of the communication equation.