Getting coffee when all you want is tea – the importance of effective communication in the workplace.

assortment of tea and coffee on a table

You ask for a cup of tea and all you seem to get is coffee!

We’ve all been there. No matter how many times you think you’re being clear and spell out – “T. E. A.” – you keep getting the stuff you don’t want.

You’ve been clear. You’ve been direct. Right? Well, maybe not!

Sometimes communicating is just a little more challenging than expected.

Today I was with the owners of a thriving business in Perth, chewing the fat over a cup of tea (yes, I got tea!), when the subject of employees came up. One of the owners rolled her eyes and shared the challenge of communicating with one employee in particular.

“He never seems to be able to follow instructions. You spell it out – steps 1 through 7- in detail, and he misses out step 4. And then when we get the outcome, he’s missed step 4 and argues that I never went through it with him”.

When we communicate in the workplace – or anywhere for that matter, we make assumptions along the way. We assume we are communicating clearly (I understood what I was saying), we assume the message has “landed,” has been heard, and interpreted correctly, in the way we intended.

Lots of assumptions, lots of filters for the communication to go through along the way. Coffee instead of tea.

So how do we ensure we are communicating effectively?

Step 1 – Awareness: Become aware of your differing style and language when communicating. Some people prefer to give and receive the Detail (“I spelt out steps 1-7…”), and expect others to hear it and process it literally, when in fact the recipient may not ‘process’ the world in the same way.

Others may give and receive their communication in a more Interpretive style – using more visual or illustrative language to deliver their message. You’ll typically hear these people tell stories or ‘walk through’ a scenario as an experience rather than as a list of steps to follow.

And others prefer a more concise way of communicating. They want the Gist. They don’t need/want the detail, assuming the recipient doesn’t either, and expect the other party to fill in the blanks. They tend to get that ‘eyes glazed over’ look a few short minutes into a conversation. They’re onto the next topic already!

We all have and use each of the above ‘styles’ to differing levels, tending to prefer one over the other in different situations.

Are you aware of how this is playing out in your workplace? Build awareness at work by having this conversation with your work mates. How do they prefer to give and receive their communication?

Step 2 – Choice: Once we are aware of how we communicate, we can make choices. We can choose to change how we deliver a message, depending on the varying styles of those receiving it. If we know how other people receive and process a communication, we can choose to tailor the message accordingly.

We can also choose to receive communication, ‘open’ to the style it is being delivered in.

Step 3 – Action: Manage the moment. Ask for feedback there and then. Did the other party receive the communication as intended? How did they hear it? Ask them to feed it back to you.

Does it come back as tea or coffee?

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