Thursday, 20 April 2017

Is your communication clear?

How often have you vented your frustration because someone has misunderstood something you've asked them to do, or got confused about the data you've sent them? It's easily done, especially when we think what we've communicated is clear and unambiguous. And it is - for us.

When communicating with others however it's useful to remember we don't all think the same. It's just like the difference between the iphone and android phones, or a Mac and PC - to make them all do the same thing we might have to press very different buttons. 

What we need to do to achieve the outcome we want only becomes clear therefore when we understand the operating model that the device is working to. It's only then that we'll understand that pressing a certain sequence of buttons means we get what we expect rather than the opposite.

The Met office weather app is a great example of this - although it's me, the receiver of the communication, who's frustrated and not the Met Office.

Which of the following views do you think it easier to understand? 

I suspect your answer will depend on a number of factors:
  • Preference to view the data in smaller chunks rather than assimilate all the info at once 
  • Preference for visuals rather than data
  • Preference for vertical presentation of sequential data (top to bottom, left to right) rather than horizontal presentation (left to right, bottom to top)
  • Preference for black or white background
  • Current design of the diary they use every day - which is how they're used to visualising time - ie mine is: Days - left to right, Time - top to bottom in both electronic and paper formats.
  • Length of time you've been using the view in question  
  • and so on
As I wrote the list I realise being happy with the left hand option for years is making it difficult for me transition to the new look. I also find the sheer volume of data on the right confusing. The biggest factor that my brain is finding hardest to assimilate though, is to look to the bottom of the page to pick a time to then look up for the forecast! Perhaps if I persist I may start to find meaning in the data - currently it just might as well be in a different language and I could cry with frustration. I'm certainly looking for alternate weather apps with views that meet my preferred means of taking info in.

This is such a great example of what could happen every time we communicate. Like the Met Office I'm sure we think our message is clear and unambiguous, and as we understand the message so will the other person. I'm sure many many people will - just like I'm sure many Met Office app users are finding the new visual presentation helpful. However, sometimes, we might just have chosen to present to our stakeholder using a means that is counter to their preferred means of making sense of the data. Which will certainly make it much harder, if not impossible, for them to understand what we're telling them. 

Despite MS's best efforts when we move powerpoint documents between Mac, PC, Iphone, ipad and android we do lose some of the message. Next time you're getting frustrated with your stakeholder about a misunderstanding therefore, you may want to consider if their communication preferences might explain the misunderstanding, and what you can do to plug the gap in their understanding. 

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal and procurement potential using unconventional tools

Communication is one of the postcards included in the Purchasing Coach Soft Skills Toolkit that brings together a series of postcards from your soft skills - it's entitled Dear Procurement, with love from your soft skills. More here.

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