The number one problem for most organizations is communication. The rule of thumb is that we need to communicate a message six times in different ways to even hope that most people read or hear it and understand it clearly. Clarity is difficult because words have different meanings to each of us. The context in which the words are used has a big impact as well. I learned a significant lesson on communication at dinner last week. We were out to dinner for our daughter Haley’s birthday. As you might expect, my wife had a big bag of gifts which Haley began to open while we waited for dessert. The last one she opened was a bottle of perfume.They passed the bottle around and took the cap off, smelled it and commented on how good it smelled. Finally, I got it and took my wife’s arm to spray a little on her so I could smell it. She snatched her arm back and said, “Don’t spray that on me.”
Communicating with great clarity, I replied, “Well if it’s so nice, why doesn’t anyone want it sprayed on them?” As I started to spray a little on my arm, she quickly snapped at me again not to spray the perfume. What was the big deal? It was just a bottle of perfume. They all started laughing at which point I knew I was missing something about this conversation. “That’s perfume for her dog Kramer, you nut.” We all fell out laughing. I misunderstood the whole conversation so completely that I was determined to spray that dog perfume on somebody!
I’m not sure if I didn’t hear something that was said or didn’t understand something that was said, but I clearly missed the message. As leaders, it’s so very easy to miss the message, or to do a poor job of delivering it. It takes all of us working together to make communications work, while remembering to give each other the benefit of good intentions when we feel uninformed or misunderstood. Things will smell a whole lot better if we each take 100% responsibility for communicating with clarity.