Always, never and the 99% rule…


Not sure what is expected of you? Receiving mixed signals as to what to do next? By my estimate roughly 99% of all of these are the result of one simple fact: We are really not that great at communicating expectations.

How about if we make a simple New Year Resolution that we all can live with? One that will eliminate 99% of our mutual frustrations, disagreements, and disappointments? It’s really quite simple.  If we resolve to both listen better, and express ourselves with greater clarity, the vast majority of problems we deal with can be eliminated. Imagine how wonderful our lives will be…

I don’t have to go into when, how or why these disconnects occur. They just do. We either don’t say what we mean or we don’t listen carefully enough to what we are told so that we can understand what the other person really means. The result is painfully obvious. And completely avoidable.

One idea to think about is to maintain an “Always / Never” list. It is a simple list of all those things that we need to either always or never do. That will knock off at least half of our frustrating experiences right there. Everyone has certain inviolable patterns. Whether we are talking about your customers, your boss, your spouse, your family, your friends or acquaintances, we know that there are certain, specific, words, acts or perceptions that will bring functional communications to an end.

For example, ask yourself: “What are the things that my customer always expects of me? Alternatively, what are the things that my customer never wants to see or hear from me? If you get these right, you are already ahead of the game.

If you are in business, you need to pay close attention to the “Always/Never” list of your best customers. You’d be crazy not to. Same is true for those people in your life who you interact with most frequently. This approach will take care of all the black and white issues. But since most of life is neither black nor white, you need to focus on what you say, and how you say it, if you want to take care of all the other chances for miscommunication.

Too often we say what we think the other person wants to hear, or we tell them exactly what they don’t want to hear in order to serve our own agenda. In either case, we are not necessarily communicating what is real, or what is true, or what needs to be said. If we don’t understand or if we don’t listen carefully, we will readily miss or misinterpret what others tell us. My advice: Don’t count on the other person to be a particularly concise or accurate communicator. Instead, make it a point to really listen, and then help them to find the real message. Sometimes it can take some digging or prodding. But in the end, it can save you a lot of heartbreak or confusion.

Effective communication is becoming a lost art. Text messaging, email, voicemail, headline news, and the all the rest of the ways we collapse what we take in, makes for plenty of chances to say or hear the “wrong thing”. The results range from mildly annoying to catastrophic. Step up to the situation, grab the proverbial “thistle” and say what you mean…make it more difficult for the other party to misinterpret you.

Simple enough, right? Let’s give it a go. It can’t  possibly hurt. And who knows, the angst you save just may be your own.

2 responses to “Always, never and the 99% rule…

  1. Great observations about communication, Rick! Reminds me of one of Covey’s 7 Habits: “seek first to understand, then to be understood” which, frankly is borrowed from James 1:19 ” Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

    Good stuff!!

  2. I really enjoy your blog and insights! I find it can take FOREVER to find a blog you can really connect with.

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