Avoid This Communication Mistake

We know that effective communication is the cornerstone to driving organizational results. Yet, too often we see leaders make this common mistake. It’s that they make assumptions as to why there’s been a negative outcome. Let me give you some examples, you might be able to relate.

As a leader, maybe all of a sudden your manager or another senior leader has started to become short, curt, or maybe rude to you. And you might have made the assumption that it’s probably because they’re just really stressed out from all the organizational changes, or you assume maybe they’re having problems at home. Maybe you as a leader have been in a meeting where one of your peers interrupts you and starts talking over you and you’ve made the assumption that they’re trying to go for your job. “Oh my gosh, they’re trying to push me out and take that promotion.”

Or maybe you as a leader have had a direct report who’s been missing deadlines, and you make the assumption that they’re really bad at time management or that they’re disengaged, they’re job searching, they’re going to quit soon As human beings, this is almost biological; we have a natural tendency to see something change or some negative outcome, and we want to create that “why” behind it. We need to know why this is happening, it is almost biological.

So it’s not unusual for you to create these theories or these assumptions. However, the mistake is that it is now going to change or cloud how you effectively communicate in the next step. How you might approach your boss, how you might then approach your peer, how you would approach your direct report. In all of these examples, that assumption is completely changing your communication – and it is making it not effective.

First of all, it’s an assumption you’ve made – you don’t even know if it’s true. So you’re potentially taking a next step of how you’re going to communicate based upon completely inaccurate, bad information. But, even if it is true as to why, it really should not affect your preparation and how you’re going to approach and communicate with that person. That next step is driven less about the why, and it’s driven more about what are the facts. What are the facts in front of you that you are going to communicate to that person, in order to come to a mutual agreement?

And more so, especially with your direct reports, allow them to come up with this solution. If you are making assumptions as to why there’s a change in behavior, especially when it’s to the negative, you can no longer be an effective communicator if you are taking that why, that assumption of the why, with you into your next level of communication. We see this all the time, up, down, and sideways.

So I encourage you as a leader to acknowledge, “Look, I just made an assumption,” right? “As a human being, I’m going to make that assumption.” But leave that, table that, put that here, and then take your next steps for the communication for how you’re going to approach it and resolve it with this separately.

And state, prepare, and base this communication solely on the facts of what you know. I’d love to hear from you below, have you been in a bind where you’ve made this assumption and you’ve communicated and it hasn’t worked out in your favor? Or you’ve seen others do it, or you have a tip on how to get past that assumption or that why? We’d love to hear from you, comment below!