Miscommunication can easily happen when two or more human beings attempt to achieve a common understanding.
A few years ago, I decided to brighten up my office with a new coat of paint. I subscribe to Architectural Digest Magazine and had seen a color I really liked in one of the photo spreads. It was a dark rust red color which, when combined with white woodwork, looked great. Since I have a lot of woodwork in my office, I thought it would be perfect.
I hired a painter, showed him the picture and told him what I wanted. Being a professional, he made sure there was no misunderstanding by asking, “So you want the whole room painted this rust red color except for the woodwork, which you want painted white, correct?
I replied, yes, that’s exactly what I wanted. I was leaving the next day to go on the road for a weeklong speaking tour so I told him to start then so I’d be out of his way.
When I returned, I discovered that he had painted the walls rust red, he’d painted the woodwork white, and he had painted the ceiling rust red (the ceiling had previously been white.) Since my office is relatively small with just one window, it felt like I was in a rust red cave.
So I called him and said this wouldn’t work because of the ceiling. He replied, “But you said you wanted the whole room rust red.” I said, with exasperation in my voice, “Well, I didn’t mean the ceiling.”
He replied, “You should have told me you wanted the ceiling white” and I replied rather tersely, “You should have asked.”
Whose fault was this miscommunication?
If we are talking customer service here, then it is the painter’s fault. I am his customer and customers are always right. Unfortunately, this kind of a communication SNAFU often happens in any kind of an organization. So, how could we have avoided the misunderstanding in the first place?
First, after giving the instructions, I could have said, “Please repeat that back.” But that sounds a bit punitive. It’s almost accusing him of not being capable of comprehending what said. It would be like asking him, “Are you stupid?”
Better to say, “Can you run that back by me so I’m sure I covered everything?” That way, I would be putting the burden of the misunderstanding on myself which would lower the chances he would get defensive. Then, If I asked enough questions, I could have determined that he had the wrong impression of what color I wanted on the ceiling
Conversely, for him to be clear with me, he could have said, “Now let me run this back by you to make sure I understood everything you want.” Then, he could have asked questions about the floor and the ceiling to make sure he understood me. A good contractor or anybody taking instructions for a project will always ask lots of questions to avoid a miscommunication.
So, the lesson for avoiding a communication SNAFU is to ask for clarification without accusing the other person of stupidity. Properly done, it should work almost every time. Afterall, nothing is perfect.
You might also want to check out a wonderful book on communication titled Looking Out/Looking In by Ronald B Adler and Russell F. Proctor.
For more info on avoiding a miscommunication, go to https://larryjohnsonspeaker.com/avoid-communication-snafu/