Have you ever accidentally offended someone, so accidentally that their response came as a complete surprise? This happened to me this week; a note that I attached to a document was apparently so offensive that it ended a business relationship. After going over it with The Husband (this is not our first conversation about tone, I'll be honest), he deemed it innocuous and left me a bit baffled.
When I opened up Twitter this morning and saw an article regarding the difficulty scientists have communicating with the public because of interpretation, it seemed the perfect time to discuss communication. The article above is specific to global warming and public perception, but really, communcation is a universal issue.
So what works?
1. Clarity. Know exactly what you are trying to communicate and be honest about it. Don't try to fancy it up; be direct and don't clutter up your communication with too many words or explanations. Get to the point.
2. Don't interpret reactions. If you don't understand what someone is saying, or are confused by the way they are saying it, ask them what they mean.
3. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Listening is an underrated art, and the people who communicate best are those who listen to actually hear what the person is saying. You know you need to work on this skill if you find yourself planning your response while someone is talking to you.
4. Be patient. Not everyone is articulate, and not everyone can think quickly on the fly. No judgement in this statement - this is just the way people are. Teachers call this using wait time; allow people to formulate their thoughts and don't jump in with more questions, facts, feelings, etc.
5. Don't assume. Don't assume you now what someone thinks, feels or is planning to say. You have no idea and may be (un)pleasantly surprised if oyu try.
6. Possibly the most important tip: be kind. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle daily and that colors their communication. Understand that reactions or responses may have nothing to do with you, and cut people a little slack. Imagine that they are on your side, they just don't know it yet.
I contacted the offended party and apologized, simply and directly. I didn't try to explain or justify; I just said, "I am sorry." Hopefully it will be received well, but I cannot control how it is received (another frustrating part of communication); I can only move on from here and try to do it better next time!