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What I Say vs. What You Hear

It really gets my goat when colleagues don't read my emails. I write amazing emails – with tons of context! Bulleted lists! To-do’s! How dare they not read what I spent so much energy writing? It’s so inconsiderate! And oh, how superior I feel when someone replies with a question I’ve already answered. Just read the email! I think. I read carefully to glean every detail; why can’t they?

Effective communication isn’t what you say. It’s what the other person hears.

This is especially true in times of conflict. How much easier is it to convey or hear an unintended message when we’re under stress, or when our fight/flight/freeze response to threat has been triggered?

In today’s workplace, it is critical to understand that some people are more to-the-point and task-oriented, while others focus on building relationships. Some are detail-oriented and analytical; others thrive on big ideas. (Some like detailed emails; others just want bullet points!) All styles are important, particularly in complex problem-solving, because each one brings a different strength or perspective to the table. But in times of stress, chaos or disagreement, we tend to default to our favored style and can often struggle to flex and thus be open to really hearing what the other person is saying. This means we can fail to effectively communicate precisely when it’s most important.

Appreciating different communication styles is especially critical in the field of conflict resolution because helping all parties understand and feel understood within stressful circumstances can make the difference between success and failure. I’ve seen many heated exchanges diffused through effective communication. If we remember that what we say isn’t important – what others hear is – and combine that with an understanding of the different communication styles, it becomes easier to flex even under stress.

Remember, “communication works for those who work at it.”


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