From advice that says you should imagine your audience naked to make yourself more comfortable when giving a speech, to the “fact” that 93% of all communication is nonverbal, communication myths abound.
When I decided to do a blog post about communication myths, there were so many I had a difficult time honing in on just five. However, based on personal experience, and the fact that these issues have come up repeatedly in workshops and seminars over the years, I present you with the following five communication myths you likely believe. Even if you read them and say, “Of course this is a myth,” ask yourself, “but do I still do it?” I think you’ll be surprised by the answer.
Myth #5 – When people say, “uh huh” or “got it”, that means they understood me.
Busted: Imagine you’re in your kitchen, stirring a fantastic pot of spaghetti sauce. The kitchen smells great, you have the water boiling for the pasta, and the phone rings. It’s your spouse, saying he or she is stopping at the store on the way home and wants to know if you need anything. You say, “bread,” and your spouse says, “got it,” and then shows up with this:
You quickly realize communication has NOT occurred. What exactly does “got it” mean? Got what? The wrong bread, that’s what.
So who is at fault in this situation? Technically both parties. However, since you were the one initiating the conversation, you bear the responsibility for ensuring communication has truly occurred.
First, you should have been more specific. Having been married 27 years, I have learned to say,
“I need a fresh-baked loaf of Italian bread. You’ll find it at HEB, in the bakery section, second shelf, five loaves in. It’s in a brown-paper bag and says ‘Pane Italiano’ on it.”
Some people argue with me on this point, saying, “Well, if the other person didn’t understand, why didn’t he or she ask?” The answer is, for the same reason you weren’t specific in the first place- you had a mental picture of what you wanted when you said, “bread” so you thought you were being clear. Your listener hears the word “bread” and conjures up a mental picture of something as well, it just turned out to be a different picture.
Second, when your dinner (or a work project) is on the line, don’t let a conversation end with “uh huh.” When someone’s initial response is “uh huh,” “got it” or something similar, and the conversation ends at that, you can rest assured that you and the other person are NOT on the same page. Therefore, ask questions, ask the person to describe what he or she will do, do SOMETHING to ensure that the other party has a clear picture of what you want or need before assuming communication has occurred.
Myth #4 – When people say “yes”, that means they agree.
Busted: You ask your employee to take on a new task. You explain the steps in great detail and at the end of the conversation, you ask, “Do you understand what needs to be done?” There is a big difference between a “Yes, definitely,” said in an enthusiastic tone, and “Uh, yes, I guess so” or “If that’s what you want to do, then yes.”
Be sure to pay attention to HOW someone says yes. Is there hesitation? Does the person’s face look worried (i.e., telling you no nonverbally) while saying yes? Is there a “qualifier” before or after the yes? Any of these should signal to you that although the person SAID yes, what he or she meant is NO.
Myth #3 – If I tell others “my door is always open”, they’ll come to me with problems.
Busted: For years, managers and leaders have told their employees they have an open door policy. The problem is, no one wants to walk through the door.
Going to, or being called into the boss’ office is a big step for employees. It’s not just another office, it’s the boss’ territory. Not only does it conjure up the feelings one might have had going to the principal’s office in grade school, but people become very concerned with what their coworkers are thinking when they walk across the threshold and close the door. Additionally, many bosses SAY they have an open door policy, but they’re either never in the office, have the door closed, or look/act annoyed when an employee drops by.
It takes more than an open door policy to get people to come to you with problems. Be sure to take opportunities to go to them. Check in with others frequently to see how they’re doing. Take the time to really listen and you’ll likely be surprised what they share.
Myth #2 – When someone says, “I’m over it,” they’re over it.
Busted: I’m always amazed when people will tell me about a past slight, difficult situation, argument, etc., sharing their story with obvious anger or frustration in their voices, and then end the story by saying, “but I’m over it.”
So if they’re over it, why are they still talking about it?
If someone is still bringing up a past situation, they’re not over it, no matter how many times they say they are. The question is, what do you do about the fact that they’re not really over it?
It depends. If it’s not your place to get involved, you might just move on. If the issue involves you, you might say, “You say that you’re over it, but I think the fact that you brought it up means you want to discuss it further. Let’s talk about it.”
Myth #1 – Communication always makes things better.
Busted: Used correctly and in skilled hands, communication is an excellent tool and often makes situations better.
However, “more communication” in and of itself does not make things better, and in fact can make things worse. Here are some examples:
- Writing a 200 word email when your message could have been communicated in 20 words.
- Fighting with a family member about an issue, only to have the conversation disintegrate into name calling, insults, and other hurtful comments.
- Pushing someone to give you a solution when he or she hasn’t had a chance to think about the problem.
Quality, not quantity of communication is what makes things better. Timing, readiness of the other party to communicate, and other factors also impact communication effectiveness. So when you want to “fix” something, don’t just throw more communication at the problem, create a plan for effectively communicating with others.