Working in the business of communication you’d imagine that the communication process would be part of my DNA. Then again what we think (or say) is not always what we mean or more importantly what is heard. I learnt a hard lesson it this regard just recently.
Saying what you mean sounds so simple. Yet clear communication becomes even more important when under pressure to deliver. Despite our best intentions, what we try to articulate is often lost in translation. We say one thing; the other person hears something else. Misunderstandings, frustration and conflicts then ensue leading to even more stress. The lesson of not clearly communicating my commitments and understanding their poorly articulated deadlines almost lost me a client. It also caused angst and stress that took time and effort to resolve.
As a freelance agent in the hectic world of design, there is a constant shift and flow of projects and timelines. Deadlines rarely shift. Yet work commitments are often in a continual state of flux and there is a constant pressure to complete projects on-time, on-budget and still with a high level of creativity. Plus no amount of professionalism is able to completely divorce our emotions and personal life from our working life.
It all started with a miscommunication about what my client thought had been discussed, or what they heard, with what I had said left. It ended in an argument that left me walking away not caring if I lost the client, and the associated stress.
When situations arise, like this with my client, it’s important to be able to manage our emotions. We often need to think on our feet. Too many things are said in the heat of the moment and then regretted later. We need to create enough space in the discussion where we can give ourselves time to think. We also need to stay within the bounds of our strengths and limitations.
Pause to collect your thoughts. A few deep breaths, (even a few minutes meditating or taking a break from the situation) can bring our senses to the rescue and quickly manage the stress.
It is often critically important to ask to have a question repeated, or for clarification before responding. As well how we say something can be just as important as what we say. Speak clearly with an even tone, control your emotions and always, always keep eye contact with the other person. Keep your body language relaxed and open. Wrap up with a summary and then stop.
Sometimes we simply need to agree to disagree. Be also willing to compromise, if we can both bend a little, we may be able to find a middle ground. If also you realise that the other person cares more about something than you do, compromise may be easier for the long-term future of the relationship.
Often the issue can be dissipated simply by a carefully thought out response. In my case a handwritten letter, delivered the next day. After a night of reflection, I was willing to resign the client. I didn’t need the added stress that was involved. The money and on-going business was not worth all the angst. In the letter I clearly and calmly outlined my perception of the original discussion, and the lack of clear understanding between both of us, which lead to the issue in the first place. I made maneuvers to repair the situation but also made it clear that I understood if they wished to find someone else for their project.
This letter, and the space of a weekend, brought about an open conversation in which we both agreed to move forward with a stronger awareness of the need of open, clear communication.
Being assertive is not about being hostile, aggressive, or demanding. It is about expressing one’s thoughts, feelings and needs in an open, honest way. Respecting yourself and others creates the basis of effective communication that is not about winning an argument, but about mutual respect and growing as a human being.
Communication is more than just an exchange of information; it involves making sure that both parties completely understand what is being said. Although a learned skill, good communications is the glue that keeps us working together to make decisions and solve problems.