Several weeks ago we welcomed Ester, a 17 year old young woman from Brazil, into our home. She will be here for a month, with a goal of improving her English. (Or maybe it’s her father’s goal.) I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as her English language abilities but what I know now is that they’ve put mine to a test!

It’s hard work to communicate with someone who does not have the same vocabulary or same reference points. But when it’s critical I find a way to get my point across. It’s made me think about what we all need to do if we want to insure we are being understood.

Slow Down

We all run so fast that our critical messages are not thought out – and get jumbled with other conversations. If I start talking too fast, Ester looks at me and says, “blah, blah, blah.” I have to take a deep breath and start again, slowing my pace. I also have to separate out my key messages. It’s too much information if I combine a conversation about what time we will leave for the store, with asking her if she wants to do her laundry.

Lesson 1: Think about your pace, and timing, of your messages.

Look For, and Seek, Feedback

I love it when Ester says, “blah, blah, blah.” Right away I know I’ve failed in communicating my message. I also see times on her face when she looks completely perplexed. And at other times I finish speaking and very naturally say, “do you understand?” It’s actually quite refreshing to get such immediate feedback on whether or not I’ve been understood. I think about the conversations that go on every day where we think we’ve been understood, only to find out we weren’t.

Lesson 2: Make it your job to check for understanding.

Find Another Way

There have been many moments in the past week when the words I was using just weren’t making sense to Ester. Repeating myself using the same words is a natural response, but accomplishes nothing but frustration. I’ve had to work hard to find another way to explain myself. Using hand gestures and showing her something rather than telling her something has become common place. How often do you rely on a single form of communication, and just continue to repeat yourself, expecting others know what you mean?

Lesson 3: Use different methods to communicate – pick up the phone, have a face to face conversation, show someone instead of telling them – you will be more effective!

Fortunately, most of our daily communication is easier than my conversations with Ester. But it’s made me realize how hard clear communication can be, and how many assumptions we make in all of our conversations. As I work with leaders, and listen to employees, the number one complaint is “poor communication.” As you plan your critical messages this week, consider what you can do to insure you are understood. All of your “Esters” will appreciate it!!

Take Action:

  • Think about messages that may have been misunderstood. Go back and revisit these conversations taking a new approach.
  • Plan key conversations you will be having this week. Think about the recipients and what will be effective for them.
  • Read Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler. A great resource to help structure critical conversations.