4 Tips to Escaping Communication Glitches

Marvae EikanasCommunication, Leadership

There are two crucial and very challenging milestones when it comes to parenting: potty training and teaching your children to drive!

My oldest son was not anxious to learn how to drive. When he finally decided it was time, I soon discovered that teaching your children to drive is stressful! After getting his learners permit we drove straight to an empty church parking lot for the first lesson. Everything seemed to be going well until the very end when he drove straight up a hill instead of putting the car in park.

As a result of that experience, and a few others just as terrifying, I was nervous when my daughter was ready to learn to drive. Unlike my son, she was chomping at the bit, more than eager to get started. For my sake, she was limited to coasting in a parking lot for the first few lessons.

By the time my youngest son got around to learning to drive I had learned a few things:

  • It is unnerving to be at the mercy of an inexperienced driver.
  • Something you have been doing on auto pilot for many years is challenging to break down into detailed steps.
  • My safety depended on my ability to calmly communicate directions in a clear way.

In spite of the heart racing moments, I survived the learning to drive experience with all three of my children without a scratch!

Leading is a little bit like teaching someone to drive, although hopefully less life threatening! No matter who you are leading – staff, volunteers, or children in a classroom – clearly communicating is key! Have you ever been misinterpreted or misunderstood? What assumptions have you paid for? Have you reacted in the moment in ways that were unproductive? We all have!

How can you avoid communication glitches?

1. Think before you speak

Speaking before thinking things through is easy when you are overwhelmed or hurried. While another topic altogether, anything you can do to eliminate the things that overwhelm you will serve you well.

Slow down, be present, and take the time to think through what you want to communicate.

Remember, what you are communicating may be old hat and on auto pilot for you, but it may be brand new for those you are speaking to.

2. Check for understanding

When communicating important information or giving directions, encourage the person you are speaking to summarize what they’ve heard. That allows you to address any confusion or misunderstandings before they become issues and it will go a long way towards making sure the outcome is positive.

Asking great questions is another great way to better understand others.

3. Pause

In conversations, practice pausing for ten seconds before responding to the person you are talking to. It might feel like forever on your end, however, to the other person it conveys you are present and listening. It also helps you to avoid jumping in and talking over the other person before they are finished speaking. When you do speak, be sure to acknowledge what the other person has said before launching into what you have to say.

4. Make “feedforward” a habit

Good driving habits include scanning your mirrors. Being aware of who is on the right and left, as well as behind you, is important.  By far the bulk of your attention when driving is ahead – where you are going. The same is true for a leader. It is important to know what is surrounding you and behind you, however, when trying to communicate where you want someone to go it is more helpful to focus on that destination. Instead we often focus on the past and what they did wrong – feedback. This is much like trying to get somewhere by looking in the rear view mirror while trying to drive the car forward.

When working with those you lead, it is much more effective to give “feedforward” than feedback. Point out the great things they are doing so they will do it again. Then suggest a few things they can do to make things even better. Not only will they be more receptive to this information, it gives them specific things to do. It will also create a more positive culture within your team or classroom and prevent unnecessary hurt feelings.

The habit of “feedforward” is particularly useful when working with children. We often tell them what not to do, leaving the options endless of what to do. That can be very confusing! Point out the positive behaviors and “feedforward” with the negative ones. For example, “Ben, let’s be kind to our friends by using our words to ask if we can have the blue crayon.” That is much easier to hear and obey than “Ben we don’t grab crayons!”

As a leader, the responsibility of how things go falls on you. Much of that hinges on your ability to communicate well. If the people you lead are struggling, consider how you may be contributing to the issues.

I challenge you – practice these four communication tips. Experience the difference better communication makes. It will keep you in a more positive mindset and you will also get better results. That’s a win, win!

And hopefully it will be fantastic practice for the day you need to teach your child to drive.

When it comes to communication, what do you find most challenging as a leader?