When you speak to someone, or send them an email, SMS or something on Messenger, it’s your message; and therefore it is your responsibility to send the right message.
When someone doesn’t understand your message it isn’t their fault, its because you didn’t take responsibility for being clear in what you were saying.
It’s about you, the messenger, accepting responsibility for your choices. You can choose to be clear in your messaging or you can choose otherwise.
Why is it that our communication fails the clarity test? It’s simply because we don’t want to be held accountable for our own actions, so we build in some wriggle room by being vague, providing incomplete information or, in some instances, being downright dishonest.
In the 1980’s Fernando Flores’s Philosophy of Language dissertation from Berkley titled Management and Communication in the Office of the Future where he introduced a new field of management science “Communicative Competency”. Flores offered an Office of the Future where “Human Commitment” is the central organizing activity addressing our permanent human and business concerns. As a part of his research Flores identified that the foundation for all work hinges on people’s ability to negotiate and integrate their activities with each other. At the core of this workflow is our ability to communicate in a clear, concise manner.
Flores developed the promise cycle. sometimes referred to as the ‘atom of work‘, a cycle of promises and commitments.
The promise cycle works on the premise that two or more people enter into negotiation, where one person makes a promise and another accepts the offer. The person accepting the offer then moves through a process of implementation, until following completion, the two parties review the outcome in preparation for moving to a new round of promises and commitments.
The two words, promise and commitment are important. For a start they are action words. When I agree with you to do something I make a promise to do so to the best of my ability. When I make a commitment to support your promise I am indicating my ability to do so to the best of my ability. Even if we don’t actually use those two words in our communications, they already exist in the exchange of messages and are implicit in our verbal agreements.
How can you increase your accountability in your communications? For a start be specific. Avoid the use of vague language. This indicates you are hiding from your accountability and creates confusion amongst those you are sending the message to.
Be clear in your commitment. There is no middle ground. You either commit to taking action or you commit to not taking action. When you waver between yes, no or maybe so, you create confusion amongst your audience. More to the point they will find themselves unable to table their promise or provide their commitment. The process will break down.
Don’t accept failure. At the same time, don’t berate someone for failing. When someone makes excuses for not meeting their commitment, listen intently and then renegotiate a new round of promises and commitments. If you fail to hold someone accountable, then your own accountability will become compromised.
Lastly, use communication, promises and commitments as the basis for learning and continuous improvement. Nobody is perfect, everyone, including you makes mistakes. Be forgiving. Its okay to ignore everything written above, so long as you do so consciously rather than habitually.
Effective communication isn’t easy. It takes time, it’s messy. It begins with listening and moves towards promises and commitments, followed by even more listening. It’s your message therefore your responsibility.
John Coxon has spent the past two decades being a mentor and coach to senior managers in the social services sector. If you are looking for guidance on how to build your own coaching at work skills then reach out to John or sms 0424103971