Regardless of the kind of work you do, or where ever you are located, if you have or want a job, you will interact with other people! (Well “Duh!” That’s obvious!) Bear with me! The basic give-and-take of what is sometimes simple communication, is how we get through our day. Sometimes the information being passed along seems insignificant, and other times it could be life altering. But being able to tell one from the other, and acting accordingly, can be the difference between job survival and the unemployment line.
In business, whether via oral or written communication, recognizing the importance of what is being communicated is paramount. No matter your position or achievement level, being able to follow instructions is an important business skill. Equally important is the ability to accurately convey and relay instructions or other details to others in a manner that is comprehendible to the listener. And sometimes, this isn’t easy!
Learning styles, listening skills and attention spans are among the contributing factors to the way people understand and respond to written and oral communication. And because of these differences in human information processing it becomes all the more important for people to take extra steps to ensure their information has been received and appropriately comprehended.
In casual conversation we frequently imply certain details rather than get overly specific because of our familiarity with the listener, awareness of their foreknowledge, experiences, etc. But in business you can’t take the chance that your intended meaning will get misconstrued because of assumptions. It is better to overstate something – provide extra details – for the sake of clarity, than it is to assume the other party knows and understands what you are referring to.
And in fact, let’s take that one step further. In business it is usually a good idea when giving instructions or passing along important information to ask the other party if they fully understand your meaning. There’s nothing wrong with requesting that your listener or the party receiving your written communications, verify their understanding, maybe even asking them to repeat your instructions to ensure comprehension. In doing so, you not only get confirmation that the other party fully understands you, but can also help them prioritize necessary actions based on the confirmation of the information’s importance.
You may be saying to yourself that you have no trouble understanding instructions or getting accurate details on your job. Excellent! Good for you! But not everyone is so lucky. In many situations understanding information may also be impeded by language. Whether we use local or common vernacular in our communications or use slang or buzz words related to your industry, we must also remember that not everyone uses language the same way. In our multicultural society it is quite possible that information can be misunderstood because one party or other is not a native speaker of the English language. And because of the increasing volume of immigrants to our domestic workforce, someone may be using the same language, but with a thick accent or inflection that can influence understanding in spoken communication. Subtleties of language that we take for granted or assume are a part of another’s understanding can get lost, further complicating one’s ability to fully understand what is being said.
Another part of this equation in the accurate sharing of detailed information is providing the follow-up, when requested, in a timely manner. If someone tells you they require additional details or more information in order to perform tasks related to the discussion, get that information to them as soon as possible. Don’t procrastinate! In doing so, you make it more difficult, and possibly uncomfortable, for the other party to have the full picture of the information they need for full comprehension and action. Quickly providing the adjunct details, whether the required information is as simple as a web link or phone number, or more complex details like procedural instructions, allows the other person to get on with their responsibilities and strengthens their ability to complete work on time. And it can also increase one’s confidence that the work will be done correctly because you have provided all necessary information.
Whether the majority of your communication is verbal or written, your ability to clearly convey thoughts and information to others is what makes the world go ‘round. But don’t assume others understand your directions! Check in with them periodically to ensure that your meaning has not been misconstrued. If others do not consistently understand the details you provide them, the tenure of your job will be shorter than you’d like. Your job survival does depend on your clarity!
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