3 Common Communications Issues and What’s Really Behind Them

I started to write about ways to fix three common communications problems, but I realized understanding the why often reveals the solution. There is almost always a reason for the obstacles that impede healthy, effective communication, and the solution lies in three words: give it back.

When your boss, or colleague or family member isn’t communicating well (or at all), it forces you to assume responsibility for the resolution. Some people do this deliberately by engaging in a volley of emails, one more confusing than the last. Others simply don’t respond. It’s important for you to see it when it happens and give it back.

#1 Passive-aggressive communication

This can sound (or read) like:

·       “I guess so.”

·       “If you think that’s what we should do.”

·       “I’m swamped, but if it’s that important to you, I’ll do it.”

The only effective way to counteract passive-aggressive communication is to end it. Quickly. So, from the above examples:

·       “I guess so.” 

               Your response: “OK, great!”

·       “If you think that’s what we should do.”

               Your response: “I do. Here’s how I can help with that.”

·       “I’m swamped, but if it’s that important to you, I’ll do it.”

               Your response: “It is.  Thank you for taking care of it.”

The idea is to hand the responsibility right back – you don’t have to take it on out of guilt or anything else.

#2 Confusing emails

We’ve all waded through more than a few of these. Misspellings, half sentences, missing info, typos – they all force you to read it several times to figure it out. The sender decided his time is more important than yours, so he handed the job of deciphering one of these things to you. Give it back.  

Respond with something along the lines of, “This sounds interesting. Would you clarify a few things for me?”  Then, bullet point your questions.

·       When is this event?

·       Where is this happening?

·       When is this due?

Now, you avoid the trap of spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out what in the world he’s trying to say.

#3 No response

This is one communication issue that may require several steps to resolve. More often than not, when you email a colleague or your boss with a request and get nothing back, she’s simply swamped. Emails can pile up and odds are, she lost track of it. The important thing again is to give it back. You’ll want to follow up in an appropriate amount of time. (Unless you’re on deadline, I recommend waiting 24 hours).

Then, please don’t start your email with, “I haven’t heard back from you.” It tends to put people on the defensive. A better way to start is, “Did you have time to…” or “Have you heard back from…”

Phrasing it that way gives your boss or co-worker a way out of feeling like a jerk for not responding.  (Cornered people can act like cornered dogs. They bite, and no one wants that.)

If your second email generates nothing but crickets, you’ll need to find a way around it. Who else in your office might have the info you need? No need to rat out your colleague – simply say, “Julie is crazy busy right now, and I really need this info by tomorrow morning for my presentation. Would you be able to pull those numbers for me?”  If your colleague is a chronic non-responder, the word will get around without your having to say a thing.

Most of us want to be helpful, and we want to succeed.  Just make sure someone else’s communications issue doesn’t become your problem to solve.

Give it back.