Are You An Effective Communicator?
One afternoon, my manager forwarded an email advising a change in policy. In short, to gain control of how clients contact our department, we were to provide one central email address, one central telephone number and one central fax number. Knowing that our personal contact information (email, direct line and personal fax) was provided in our signature lines, I forwarded a clarification email to her asking if we were to also modify our signatures to include only the department’s information. Her response came in the form of a question, “Do you have the department’s contact information in your signature or do you have your personal information?”
First, I can’t stand responding to a “Yes” or “No” question with another question, but I realize that’s my personal issue. Second, and little more disturbing, her response seemed to teeter on smart-aleckness. It appeared she was insinuating that my question was stupid. It also appeared that way to rest of the group as she copied everyone on her response to me. Of course our personal contact information is in our signatures. That was the department policy up to then. My cubicle neighbor whispered, “Just ignore it. Don’t respond.”
I took a deep breath and followed her advice…for about ten minutes. Although I wanted to respond in kind to the manager, I decided to take the high road. I sent a short but innocent reply to her question – “My personal contact information is in my signature. I will change it to the department’s contact information. Thank you.”
She sent an immediate reply. “There must be some miscommunication. We are not changing our email signatures. I meant for us to just provide the email, telephone and fax if clients ask how to contact us.”
Many, after reading her earlier response, had already begun the process of modifying their signatures. Why didn’t she just advise that in the beginning, they grumbled. I, on the other hand, thought of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
I was a manager at a previous job. All managers were required to attend quarterly sessions dedicated to different aspects of managing groups. One session focused on communication. The instructor arrived with a loaf of bread, a spoon, a knife, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. We were told to pretend the instructor did not know how to make a sandwich and to provide precise instructions. First, we advised the instructor to take two slices of bread. The instructor looked at the loaf of bread then gave us a puzzled look. We again provided the instruction of getting two slices of bread. She just looked at us, confused. Finally, she said, “Remember, I don’t have a clue about making a sandwich. How do I ‘get’ the slices of bread?”
What appeared as common sense to us – untie the twist on the bread wrapper and remove two slices of bread – was not communicated to the instructor, a person who had never made a sandwich. The lesson taught us not to assume another person understands what we meanbut to make sure we clearly and effectively communicate what needs to be done. It was a similar lesson I learned back in a college communication class: if what you are saying is not understood by the receiver, it is not the receiver’s responsibility to figure it out, it is your responsibility to make it understandable.
If it seems others are constantly misinterpreting your instructions and comments, take the time to think of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Are you clearly communicating or are you putting the responsibility on others to figure out what you mean?