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Communicate So As Not To Be Misunderstood

January 29, 2018 in

Effective communication is a skill that requires deliberate and consistent effort from all involved and without it, a successful business can fail from the inside out. While personality types are not determinants of efficient sharing or exchanging of information, it is important to note that there are different styles of communication. While some people are more comfortable speaking assertively, others prefer to be more indirect with their communication. These variations can cause great strife and problems in an organization. In the workplace we must learn to speak assertively in order to resolve problems and maintain relationships.

“Don’t communicate to be understood; rather, communicate so as not to be misunderstood.” – Dr. John Lund1

Assertive communication requires 3 C’s from the person delivering the message: confidence, clarity, and control. The communicator must be confident in her ability to handle the challenges and emotions involved in the situation she is bringing up. She must be able to deliver a message that is clear and direct, so it is easily understood by the receiver. The communicator must also remain composed and in control of her own emotions in the conversation. While personality can influence someone’s preferred communication style, everyone can develop the skill of assertive communication.


Before initiating an assertive conversation, the communicator is required to do her due diligence. It is critical that the communicator is self-aware of her own thoughts, can identify and understand the problem or situation before presenting the issue. Some questions to consider: What are your thought processes in regards to the problem and do you have all the evidence to support it? What might you be missing?

Once you have prepared, it is time to prepare the receiver with the following:

  1. Share whether this talk will be painful or not – keeps assumptions and anticipation at bay.
  2. Duration of the conversation – how long will you need me?
  3. Your expectations of them when you are done talking – What is my role in this? Why you are involving me.1

Informing an employee or colleague of these three things beforehand allows a safety-net feeling before being asked to engage. Examples of how you can do this would be, “I realize that your time is valuable and you are very busy so I will only need a few minutes of your time to inform you on __” or “I realize this is not going to be a fun conversation for either of us and I want to respect your time so I will need a couple minutes to schedule a sit down with you. That way we can thoroughly go over what needs to happen and it will take no more than an hour.”


During the conversation work through the following steps:

  1. Who, What, When and Where – begin with a clear and objective (who, what, when, and where) explanation of the issue. Be sure to use specifics without any assumptions or exaggerations (e.g. “you always do this”). Pulling forth exaggeration, gives the other person a chance to tell you the one time they did in fact not do that, thus destroying your credibility.
  2. Your Concern – as the communicator it is important to express your concerns and your perspective. Thoughtfully identify why it is important to you to have this conversation.
  3. Two Way Street – you will want to ask the other person for their perspective, perhaps there is something you did not know about them or may have entirely missed in your information gathering before approaching them. This step is where the two way conversation begins and you are asking for a change or compromise. It is very possible that with the new shared perspective you might need to pause the conversation and re-engage later so you can process what you just learned.
  4. Benefits – we often times think strictly in disciplinary terms with consequences for change, but listing positive outcomes after the compromise can energize the conversation by sharing what the person can get out it.

These deliberate steps allow both parties to reach resolve while giving growth to the working relationship.


Follow up on matters agreed upon in your assertive conversation. Remaining flexible is a must, allowing you to assist in any continuous changes that need to be made to the plan of action. Be sure to praise progress in order to reinforce the desired behavior.

In addition, the nature and frequency of communication is key in any business. For an organization or a team to run efficiently, the communication needs to be open and often. As a leader, administering the means for collaboration and sharing of ideas fosters that environment. Coordinate a series of meetings (ex. a weekly team sync meeting), set up use of a software tool for your office such as Yammer or have a regular protocol for electronic communication.2

Communication involves the good, bad, and the ugly. Allowing the delivery of information to dwindle directly affects the productivity of those who work for you and with you. Effective communication is something that a company may survive without, but very few thrive without it. It is vital to business success.

If you are interested in learning more about effective communication feel free to reach out to HigherEchelon for more specific tools.


  1. “Successful Business Communication: It Starts At The Beginning”: available Forbes, Amy Rees Anderson, May 28, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/05/28/successful-business-communication-it-starts-at-the-beginning/#4f60f14e1db5
  2. “Open Communication: Vital to Business Success”: available American Management Association, David Hassell, http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/open-communication-vital-to-business-success.aspx
  3. “The Two Biggest Communication Blunders During a Reorgg”: available Harvard Business Review Press book, Stephen Heidari-Robinson and Suzanne Heywood, October 20, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/10/the-two-biggest-communication-blunders-during-a-reorg