One Simple Step to Improve Communications at Work

I meant what I said but I didn't say what I mean

I hate it when things aren't clear. 

It is so easy not to understand coworkers. You have a conversation. Your colleague has ideas in her heads that you discussed with her. You have an interpretation about what you heard her say. Add it up and you have a recipe for misunderstanding. 

People get disappointed that they weren’t understood and then out comes the finger pointing and a blame game begins. This happens all the time in most work environments. Most people are lazy and don't take the time to make sure both parties understand the same facts. And when you add a third, fourth or fifth person to the equation--- it can be a disaster and a breakdown in communications. 

I have a simple solution that uses a method that is common to most marketing professionals (as well as others who understand the importance of the written word). This is not complicated but requires upfront work once a conversation has been completed. 

In the world of marketing, we write a brief about a project. It is how we articulate with as much clarity as possible, a project we want to undertake with an agency or department within our organization. In it we spell out the details to establish clarity. 



Background and Context:  We describe the situation
Objective and Goal: What are we trying to achieve.
Requirements: What are the requirements of the action that must occur such as if we are running a promotion, it has to be checked by legal department before launching, it must be consistent with our brand positioning, etc.  
Who does what? This outlines responsibilities. The brand manager will do X and the agency will do Y.  It is the job of Z to be kept well-informed by both parties.
Who is the target audience? Are you trying to reach new customers, consumers, the trade, journalists, stakeholders, investors, etc?             
What is the Timeframe When do we start and when do we end the work?
What is the Project Budget How much is available to spend?
What is evidence of Success?    How will we know we succeeded? What will be our instrument to measure we achieved our goal? (Number of articles written about the product, mentions online, leads in the sales funnel, etc)

PUT IT IN WRITING   
My suggestion is that when you are asked to participate in a project, write an email back to the project leader or sponsor. In it, try and be as specific as possible about what you understand about the activity and what is your responsibility. A project leader should start with this type of brief- but if they don’t take the onus and put it in writing. As I wrote about in my post about active listening, you won't have clear communications unless you have clear confirmation of understanding. 

A N  E X A M P L E:

Dear Colleague,

This is what I understand from our discussion today.  
We are working to get an outside agency who will help us with an independent audit of our XYZ report. 
You have informed me of the following: The project agreement with this agency is for 3 months costing $5,000 and we want them to do the following three things—A, B and C. 
In this project, we are trying to influence journalists so they will change their perception about us regarding our materials used in making our product. 
My role is to do these three things- 1, 2 and 3 no later than 30 days from completion of the report. We have a budget not to exceed $5,000. 
Success will be measured by achieving five articles published within 6 months of the report's distribution that more accurately depicts the facts about our ingredients. 

Did I miss anything? 

Sincerely,

Me

BRIEF AND CLEAR
Brief- to the point and clear. Your colleague can read what you understood and share with you any changes or misunderstandings before hand. Now, you are both on the same page. The burden is on the listener to seek confirmation. Take responsibility for what is expected of you. Be brief and to the point. It will help avoid misunderstandings and it will create more positive outcomes. 

Was I brief enough? 




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