I have known how to talk for awhile. I learned my ABCs a long time ago, and learned to write fairly soon after that. I have degrees in Journalism and English and a Masters in Library Science. I write book reviews and people pay me money for them. You would think I would have this communicating thing down pretty well at this point.
But despite all of the new ways to communicate and despite being in a mode of almost constant communication one way and another, I find that communication remains one of the hardest challenges in life and in work. Here are some of the things that get in the way.
“Oh, I didn’t know that. No one ever told me that.”
You can communicate all you want, but if the person on the other end isn’t paying attention it is all for nothing. Or sometimes it’s that you told them “that” but you told them last year and they didn’t need it in-between so the memory of you telling them is gone. So you really can’t assume that because you told them, they know. You have to double-check at the time, and then you have to remind people later. Everyone’s brains are too full now, and accessing the information is increasingly hard.
“Oh, you were talking about THIS? I thought we were talking about THAT.”
It is very easy to think you are both talking about the same thing when you are talking about different things altogether. I’m finding this a particular issue with both the library construction project and the website construction project. They’ve communicated with you; you’ve communicated with them; everyone should be on the same page, and you think that you are until that horrible moment when you realize that you were talking about two different things. I suspect that the only cure for this one is being the annoying person who rephrases things and confirms things multiple times. But that’s okay–I gave up worrying about annoying people around the time I became a manager.
“I distinctly remember you telling us something different.”
This is the one where you send an email. Then someone points out that something in your email is wrong, so you write a correcting email. Then there’s a discussion on some other point in your email so now at least half of your original email has changed. So you send a final confirming This Is the Real Information email. Then two months later someone sends you your original email saying, “I thought this was what you told us to do???” And now everyone is cranky. I have no solution for this problem. You can tell people to delete the wrong emails but let’s face it–often they don’t.
“You never told us that!”
Sadly, this is sometimes true. One of the hardest parts of communicating well is communicating to ALL of the people who need the information. It is just so easy to tell one or two people something and to file it away mentally as having communicated about it. The busier you get, the more difficult it is to remember to pass along whatever information you have to everyone who needs it. I think the only solution for me on this one is to make a big point of stopping and thinking every night before I leave: “Did I tell them what they need to know?” And if the answer is no, it becomes either the last task of the day or the first task of the next day. Because as hard as communicating is, it is just about the most important thing there is.
Maybe when I am 100, I will be really really good at communicating. For now, it continues to be a lot of work.