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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


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O’ Captain, My Captain- Tips for High School Seniors Who Don’t Receive The Title

20130128163451-CaptainI was a member of my high school’s Dance Team for my junior and senior year. My senior year of high school I was one of four seniors graduating. I had been on the team the least numbers of years compared to the other three seniors. Two of the girls had been on the team since sophomore year, and the other girl had been on the team since freshmen year.

The team had spent all summer bonding at dance camp, learning new routines, and getting ready for the new school year. The coach named the captains of the team at the start of the fall season. She named the girl who had been on the team since freshmen year, with which I had no issue. She named one of the other girls that had been on the team since sophomore year, which I believe the coach made captain just because she had been on the team longer. I thought I should be named captain because I had stepped up throughout the summer. I had choreographed a dance that we performed at the football games, and the younger girls looked up to me. I was upset about not receiving the title and that night after practice, I came home and spoke to my Dad. He had not been named the captain of his high school football team because he was not the quarterback. He told that I could still be a captain without the title, it was more about being a leader and someone the rest of the girls could look up to and respect. He told me to continue acting and behaving the same way I always had, and not let the title bring me down.

School is starting this week, and I cannot help but wonder how many seniors feel snubbed when they don’t receive the title of captain. I wonder how often conflict arises between coaches and parents when their kids don’t get the title? Or between coaches and athletes when they feel snubbed? Or between the captains and other members who feel their teammates didn’t deserve it? My junior year and first year on the dance team, there were six seniors graduating. When the coach announced who the captains were, one of the seniors was so upset she didn’t get the title, she quit.

What is the best way to handle this conflict if you are not named the captain and you feel like you should have?

  1. Think before you speak. The girl on my team quit before talking to the coach. She also made a lot of negative and nasty comments about the girls who had been named the captains, as well as the coach. Before jumping to conclusions, try to put yourself in your coach’s shoes and ask yourself why they may not have made you captain? Are you frequently late to practice? Do you have leader qualities or are you more of a follower? Don’t talk badly about other teammates or your coach, that just appears immature.
  2. Approach the coach. Once you have put yourself into your coach’s shoes, if you still don’t understand their decision approach them calmly. You could say something like, “Hey Coach, I have been thinking about the title of captain and I was wondering why you didn’t choose me? Could I have done something differently? If there were certain qualities, you were looking for I was hoping to work on them throughout the year”.
  3. Remember it was not your teammates choice. Your coach chose them; they didn’t put themselves in that position. Therefore, don’t take your anger and frustration out on your teammate, this will just further drama and conflict. Team conflict can cause losses, for a team to win they have to work together.
  4. Accept the decision and keep pushing forward. Despite not receiving the captain title initially, I did what my Dad advised and continued to act like a leader. My hard work paid off and at the start of the Winter season, my coach announced that I was being made captain because of my hard work and leadership skills.


Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management


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