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Watch Those Assumptions! Strategies to Step Up Your Clear Communication

assume1Communication I believe is most important thing in all human interactions, whether it is at home, in school, out in social settings with friends, or in the workplace. People have told me throughout my life that I have high expectations; sometimes too high because I often want perfection. I will admit this can be true. I recently planned my wedding and like most brides, I wanted the day to be perfect, and for the most part it was. I credit my spectacular wedding day to outstanding communication. I gave a very detailed description of exactly what I wanted to every vendor I met. I left no room for interpretation. One vendor mentioned how she preferred all the details because many brides don’t communicate their expectations and needs and then, get upset when things are not exactly how they wanted.

Merriam-Webster defines communication as, “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.” When people don’t communicate what they want, using a lot of details, it leaves room for incorrect assumptions and interpretations.

Workplace settings is an environment that needs clear and consistent communication in order to be successful. CEO’s and upper management need to provide clear and concise expectations of what they need and want from their employees. When employees get hired, they need to be given a detailed description of what exactly their job entails and what will be expected of them while working there. If, for some reason, their job requirements are changed, they need to be communicated so that there is not any confusion. Teams within an organization need to talk with their fellow teammates about project expectations, work issues, and who will handle which parts. The goal of every organization, CEO, manager, employee, should be to communicate as much as possible so that no one will have the excuse that they didn’t know.

Conflict arises when negative or false assumptions occur leading people to react negatively. One of my first jobs was doing clerical work. My immediate supervisor asked me to go through the mounds of unfiled papers and remove any documents that were over ten years old and stack them in a pile while keeping the most current documents in another pile. My supervisor only gave me this instruction. I spent most of the day doing what she asked. When she came to check on me around lunch, she became frustrated because I was not organizing the files alphabetically in the piles. She assumed I knew I was supposed to do this, but I was only following her basic instructions. I ended up organizing the piles alphabetically which took up more of my time and prevented me from completing other tasks. If my supervisor had not assumed and clearly communicated what she wanted, this issue would not have arisen.

The art of communicating well is something we can all practice. Here are strategies to step up your communication:

  1. Check your assumptions. Ask yourself, what are you assuming everyone knows? If you say to yourself, “Everyone should know that.” Then you are making an assumption.
  2. Think before you speak. Take some time before any conversation to lay out the message you want to convey. Think how to say what you want and anticipate what could potentially get misunderstood.
  3. Give details, details, details. You want to be clear and concise when relaying the message, but it is also important to give as much detail as possible. The more information provided, the less chance someone can say they didn’t know this information. If possible, type out what you want to say and distribute it to all parties involved.
  4. Listen to other’s questions. There is a chance you missed an important point. Let others ask clarifying questions that could reduce miscommunication and misinterpretations.

Keep in mind that if you were not explicit in your instructions or message, you risk being misunderstood. Be patient and keep those emotions in check!

Check out some of our previous programs on effective communication here:

The New Trend in Listening: How to Improve Your Communication Skills and Enrich Relationships

How to Have Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High

 

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

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Conflict in Cross Cultural Groups: Lessons to Prevent and Manage It

crossculturalclipartModern technology and various transportation options have allowed for the cooperation of people across the world. Specifically in today’s work environment, employees are now working internationally with many different individuals and in some cases these people differ in age, gender, race, language, culture or nationality. In the article, Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams, John Ford goes into detail about the difficulties of international teamwork and also offers some lessons to prevent and manage conflict in situations that require teamwork.

Ford states that conflict is a major contributor to failure in groups. It is important to be mindful of the fact that various cultures react to conflict in different ways. One example of these cultural differences is communication styles. Communication in a group can either be expressive or restrained. While some cultures might focus on eye contact and physical touch, others might be less interested in physical touch and dodge eye contact. Furthermore, communication differences in relationships and level of directness can be seen throughout many cultures. In some cultures it is important to be direct and get to the point. Individuals from this type of culture would probably be upset by people who dodge the relevant questions and instead focus on personal matters. In contrast, the people from the second culture, who prefer addressing personal matters first, might be offended by the directness or aggressiveness of the individuals from the first culture. That being said, in the second culture it could be the norm to create a relationship with peers before tackling a project.

Ford goes on to explain that varying communication styles are not the direct cause of conflict. Instead, conflict can arise when judgments are made due to the different styles. He uses an example of a team member who strongly and loudly expresses opinions on subjects. An individual from a less vocal culture may see this behavior as arrogant or even rude. On the other hand, the individual with the strong opinion might deem the timid team member untrustworthy because he or she is quiet and does not hold eye contact. Variances in communication styles are only one example of the many differences between cultures that could cause conflict.

When working with a diverse group of people, it is important to be patient and mindful of any differences. Ford provides seven lessons to help foster better teamwork between unique individuals. The first lesson he mentions involves knowing yourself and your own culture. It is important and valuable to understand yourself and your own culture so that you can compare other cultures more effectively. The second lesson states the importance of learning the culture of the other individuals. Since cultures are dynamic, it is nearly impossible to fully understand them without experiencing them first hand. However, studying a culture by reading literature or watching films can still help prepare you for cooperation. The third lesson is called “check your assumptions”. In this section, Ford stresses the dangers of assumptions. It is important to stay open-minded and seek different interpretations to situations. Inaccurate assumptions or false judgments often lead to negative stereotypes.

The next lesson suggests focusing on asking questions instead of assuming that you know and understand a foreign culture. Asking questions not only shows respect, but it can also prevent conflicts by providing clarification. In the next lesson Ford suggests simply listening as an important tool for conflict prevention. Listening can provide a lot of valuable information about a foreign culture. The sixth step encourages you to consider the platinum rule. While somewhat similar to the “golden rule”, the platinum rule says to treat your team members how they would like to be treated rather than how we would like to be treated. Ford’s final lesson is about the fact that culture is so diverse and spread out. Therefore, instead of learning specific strategies for cross cultural conflicts, it would be more beneficial for us to assume that all our conversations deal with different cultures. We can utilize the lessons provided by Ford in our own lives every day.

 

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

 

Reference:

Ford, John. “Cross Cultural Conflict Resolution in Teams.” Mediate.com. Oct. 2001. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

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