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Managers must ensure that everyone in their organization understand the messages that they share about the business.  We’ve all heard the story of how a message can get distorted as it travels from person to person until the final interpretation is nothing like the original message.  Imagine what can happen if the original message was perceived differently by various members of your business when you first shared it with everybody and down the road, the misinterpretation gets misinterpreted!  If this type of individual interpretation of an important message happens enough it can actually destroy your business!  However, most situations are not that severe, but it draws attention to the importance of careful communication and the need to check for understanding.   Maybe you can see how differing interpretations of the same message can occur by considering the following examples.

Look at these three words: Vision– Do you mean the vision for the entire organization, the vision for my work area, or just someone’s dream? Loyalty– Do you mean faithfulness to the business, allegiance to the business, commitment to the business  or obedience  to someone?  AccountabilityDo you mean having the responsibility for something, being required to answer to someone, being liable for some action or having an obligation?  These are just a few of the interpretations that could occur for these three words because various thought processes may interpret these words in yet other ways.  There are many terms and phases that people interpret differently.  That’s why it is important to send  complete and clearly explained messages.

What causes these misunderstandings?  Our workforce consists of people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds.  Let’s consider two potential causes:  Cultural differences which occur in communications practices, cultural traditions and cultural thought processes.  Conflict arises when one group thinks that their cultural differences are superior to others.  In situations like this, there is no room for understanding.  Generational differences may be present in an organization because it is possible to have four generations working side by side.  There may be traditionalists or “old school” workers, baby boomers, X generations and millennials all working together.  Each group will have different expectations, styles, preferences, as well as thought processes and traditions. So what on earth can a manager do?

The best thing to do primarily, is to get to know your stakeholders very well.  In addition to getting acquainted with your people it is also helpful to always check for understanding and clarify your communications in as many ways as possible.  For example, written follow up documents, follow up emails, or added one on one discussions are useful.  You’ll find that the effort you put into excellent communications practices will pay off in increased efficiency, effectiveness and business growth.


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw


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