False interpretations and assumptions are some of the most common sources of workplace communication breakdowns. If you follow the E Carey & Associates blog, you might know that I’ve been an avid runner for years. I’ve always found that I can’t help but compare myself to the other runners while we’re at the starting line waiting for the starting gun to fire. I look at the men and women next to me and I immediately think that they’re going to be faster than me – their legs are more muscular than mine, or they have nicer running shoes, they’re doing intense stretches or even running as a warm-up to a marathon (why someone would add more running to 26.2 miles is beyond me).
I can’t tell you how many times these observations I made of other runners have led me wrong, and those runners who I was sure would beat me fizzled out early. What I was doing was making false interpretations – making interpretations about other people without having enough information about them.
An interpretation is creating an opinion about an event, situation or experience. It represents one viewpoint among many possible viewpoints. I find many people, myself included, making false interpretations often in the workplace. Here are a few common notable examples:
- Interrupting someone as they are speaking because you think you know what they’re going to say next. The interrupter begins speaking and it becomes clear the two are not on the same page as the person they should have been listening.
- A leader is not giving a team member a challenging assignment because the leader doesn’t see the team member at the worksite working as many hours as other, when in fact the team member has a greater work output than their coworkers.
- Someone in a group meeting is remaining silent and not speaking, and someone else interprets this to mean that they do not know the material being discussed.
So what are some things you can do to prevent misinterpreting others?
- Be self-aware. Understand when you are in a situation where you might make false interpretation. Ask someone you trust to give you feedback and let you know when you might be making that mistake. Alternatively, assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Assessment can help you understand your style of communication and how you most effectively interact.
- Communicate by acknowledgment. Repeat back in your own words what you heard the other person say. This will help you achieve clarity and let the other person know you are acknowledging them and their ideas.
- Ensure everyone is heard in group discussions. At the end of a discussion topic ask everyone in the room for their thoughts, however brief they may be. If there are team members otherwise engaged, be sure not to overlook them.
- Have one-on-one meetings, both with team members and/or the team leader. This is an opportunity to build trust and rapport with one another. Discuss workloads, challenges, personal development goals and impediments, issues, what is working well and what isn’t and work-life balance.
These are just a few suggestions for those who find themselves or coworkers falling victim to false interpretations, and there are several more strategies to develop effective workplace communication. Sometimes in large organizations or in specialized technical fields, gaps in communication styles can be too big to overcome without help from a knowledgeable expert. Schedule a consultation session with E Carey & Associates and start developing the strategies to help your team produce great work.