Years ago, I had a situation happen that my wife loves to bring up. The short of it is that my (now) wife was over at my house and we were just hanging out and finishing dinner. A knock came at the door. A friend of mine I had known for a few years decided to drop by. My friend was a talker; she had the knack for going on and on. I was tired, and I said, “Well, you two, I am off to sleep now. Good night.” And I left them to talk. What made this so funny was that my wife had never met this friend until that evening and I just left her there in my house to usher my friend on her way, once she “got the hint” that it was time to go. She would soon come to know that I am wired that way. When I am done, I am done.
As we learned more about each other and to better communicate, she came to know that when I say, “I am ready to go,” that does not mean 10 minutes from now; it means now. I have checked out and I am done. This caused us some problems early on because her way of ending an event or evening is to slowly exit. To mingle a bit more, to have one more glass of wine or one more cup of coffee. You can see how my mindset of leaving and her mindset of leaving could clash. It took a while for us to work out a system of communication, which, to be honest, has only been improved and not been perfected. Now when we are out and I say I am ready to go, I know to do it 20 minutes before I have hit my wall so she has time to make her rounds.
The key here for us was recognition and to express our expectations of each other. We had to recognize that we are different. She loves a crowd and I do not. She loves to entertain, I love to fish. She loves to talk and I love to, well, not talk. She cannot change me and I cannot change her. That is where frustrations come in for any relationship — not just marriage. When we try to change others to fit our style, we just end up disappointed and frustrated. I see this all the time in the organizations in which I’ve worked — people trying to change people. People expecting others to perform in the same manner they do. I like to sit down one on one with the people who report directly to me. I think it is important to understand who they are, how they think, and what drives them.
When I am called to lead a new team, I want to understand what each member thinks about the team. What I always hear are things like, ‘Well, most of us work very well together but…’ I always know that the word ‘but’ is going to be followed by a statement that someone or some other team does not perform up to par. When I dig deeper, I almost always find this conflict stems from poor communication and expectations never expressed.
How many of us realize that unexpressed expectations are unrealistic? Think about it in terms of my story with my wife. When my expectations of her were to know that when I said I was ready to go it meant now, as opposed to ‘let’s prepare to depart,’ we had conflict. I had never expressed to her my mindset on leaving and how in my mind that statement was clear. She simply thought I meant, ‘okay, let’s prepare to go.’ My expectations of just getting up and leaving were not clear. To her, my actions were rude and not very courteous. She was right, but I never thought of it that way, I was simply ready to go.
In our world of leading others, these unexpressed and selfish expectations are what leads to communication breakdowns, team strife, and missed opportunities to be a great team. The more we can talk to each other, recognize and concede to our differences, the better chance we have to really impact change. Whatever your vocation, if you are working together, you can achieve so much more than those working at odds with each other and that begins with good communication.
Here are 5 ways to minimize frustration caused by communication breakdowns:
- Never assume someone else knows what you’re thinking.
- Never assume you know what someone else is thinking.
- Be direct, but courteous.
- Repeat back what you think you heard.
- Ask why — the 5 Why’s really do work.