Do you have to deal with a poor communicator at work?
You might have someone who always seems to forget to mention things to you.
Maybe you deal with some people who are trying to convey an idea but do it poorly.
Perhaps you have to figure out the difference between what someone says and what they mean.
A bad communicator comes in many forms.
It’s the kind of thing that makes me nuts. Because it’s time wasting, energy draining, and not at all productive.
Which made me frustrated. Until I figured out a better way.
Who feels the pain of poor communication?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it is always worth the time and energy to be clean and clear in communications — especially with poor communicators.
By not dealing well with poor communicators, I’ve done myself harm. And others too.
Because it always comes back to bite me.
Too often, they don’t feel the pain of their shoddy communication work. Particularly if the bad communicator is someone high in the organization or otherwise in a position of power.
Whatever the case, the best thing to do is to work to clear things up now rather than deal with the repercussions later on.
That’s where these 7 tips can help you.
#1 – Help the poor communicators
The first tip is an attitude adjustment. If you take on the role of “helper” rather than complainer, the rest of this will all work out better for you.
You can view clearing up communication at all times as part of your work. Taking action on bad information or misread intent or in an unclear direction doesn’t make good sense.
Like a good carpenter, your goal should always be to “measure twice, cut once.”
Don’t let bad communicators make the measurements sloppy before you start making cuts.
Instead, help them.
To continue the metaphor, you can hold the board. Double check the tape measure. Sharpen the pencil. Shine a light. Measure it yourself and ask them to verify.
Anything to get an accurate measurement before you cut.
It’ll save you both lots of lumber, anguish, and frustration.
If they’re open to it, teach them. Help them to become better communicators.
If they’re not open to teaching, let it go. Just take on the extra work as part of doing your job better. It’s worth it in the end.
#2 – Put it in writing
It’s amazing how much the great oral tradition is upheld in many modern organizations.
I guess people find it easier to talk things out than to write things out. Maybe that’s why there are so many darn meetings all the time.
But when you walk away from the meeting, you should ask yourself if the plan of action is really clear?
Did everyone know what they were agreeing to? Do they all have the same vision of what is supposed to happen next? Do they know what, exactly, they need to do?
The quickest way to clear that up is to put it in writing. Then see if everyone agrees.
Even if you aren’t the meeting coordinator or team leader, you can do this.
It’s a leadership skill. Because the quality of your work depends on it. And so does the quantity of your time and energy.
Any time that you step up to clear things up for everyone, people will appreciate your effort.
Chances are that if you had a question about something, others do too.
#3 – Talk it out
Sometimes writing is the problem.
Ever been on one of those long, convoluted email chains?
Yeah, that’s not helping communication.
Bad communicators will keep that going. You can do better.
When this happens, get off of email and go talk to people. Pick up the phone. Arrange a meeting. Do whatever it takes to talk the issue through and make sure you are all clear on what is being discussed.
If there are multiple people in the conversation, you may need to talk with each of them individually. You may also need to meet with some together, or with the whole group.
Doing this legwork now will save you time, energy, and inbox clutter.
Writing is great, as we said above. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. There may be something more complex in play. Or maybe some emotions involved.
Maybe there is a simple terminology problem. Or a misunderstanding that just isn’t getting cleared up no matter how many times people hit “reply all.”
In those cases, talking it out (and listening well) will work wonders.
You can then go back and put everything in writing for one last round of verification.
#4 – Decision problems feel like communication problems
You might be faced with something that looks like a communication problem, but it’s actually a decision-making problem.
This happens all the time.
Sometimes people don’t know what they want. In that case, it’s hard for them to be clear, because they’re not even clear with themselves.
In this case, you need to help the person see that this is the problem.
Maybe they need more time or information or help. That’s ok.
But you need to help clarify that there is a decision to be made and that the next steps won’t take place until then.
In this case, you are being clear that things need to slow down or stop. You can help gain clarity about what information is needed, who should be consulted, and whatever else needs to be done to get things moving again.
You might find this when you seek clarity on something. You might find that the person is very comfortable with a general direction or desired outcome, but doesn’t understand the next steps or the implications of moving in that particular direction.
You can help them by making all of that clearer. Which is the key communication issue at this point.
Many times things just aren’t as simple as they appear.
In this case, your efforts to help bring clarity to the situation will probably pay some of the biggest dividends.
#5 – When poor communicators fail to edit
People rush through everything these days it seems. And haste makes waste.
Many times you can spot this. If you can be a careful reader, you can help a poor communicator.
If you think of yourself as an editor of sorts, you can help fix bad communications.
Sometimes we take the written word as too final. But an email is not carved in stone.
If you are confused by a message, chances are other people are too. You can pint this out, but you can maybe also go one step further and help edit a revision.
This can help many people, and you can help the author of the message to maybe appreciate some of the value of clearer communication.
You might feel a little shy about pointing things out. However, if you were in their shoes you would want someone to help you out.
So help them out with a little editing.
#6 Dealing with an interruptor
Have you ever been to a meeting where the conversation gets sidetracked?
According to my research, this can happen as much as 100% of the time. Often there is at least one person who seems hell bent on keeping the conversation off track.
This creates a communication issue because the main thread of conversation is at risk of getting lost.
You can work to restore order by gently and politely re-focusing the interrupter or diverger. Sometime you will need to be more assertive. But you should always be polite.
Even if the person is being rude or disruptive, it’s not going to be productive if you address it in a confrontational way. In many cases, the person has a legitimate issue (though not always that relevant) and just wants to be heard.
They may not have the sense to know the forum isn’t the best one. They may not have the skills to figure out how to address things more effectively.
Again, you can help. Be the facilitator that helps steer the conversation back on track and makes the person feel heard. You can probably even offer them some more guidance after the meeting.
Everyone will thank you for it!
#7 – The dreaded multi-tasker
Have you ever talked to someone at their desk and they continue or start working on something else while you speak?
They check email. Maybe shuffle papers on their desk. Or they fiddle with their smartphone.
It sorta feels like they’re not paying attention to you, right?
Well, that’s because they’re not.
While this poor communicator may be thinking that they can deftly handle a bunch of things at once, the truth is that they can’t.
You need to take extra care to make sure you are heard.
Wait for eye contact.
Repeat what they say and ask them to confirm your understanding.
Any and all of these will start to signal that you are demanding focused attention on important points.
If this person is a habitual offender, try arranging meetings in different locations.
Sometimes you just need to get someone away from their desk. Or out of the office. Maybe you need to catch them in the parking lot or at the coffee machine.
Keep trying different methods.
You might also need to take extra care to verify exchanges with a follow up email or text or phone call.
Weirdly, you can sometimes get more focus from a multi-tasking talker if you aren’t in the room with them.
Putting it all together
Dealing with poor communicators can be difficult. And frustrating.
It feels like extra work that you shouldn’t have to do. But the truth is that you benefit immensely from helping overcome their deficiencies.
So embrace that helpful attitude. Put things in writing after an important conversation.
Clear up confusing email threads with a call or face to face meeting.
Ferret out decision problems that are causing communication slowdowns or confusion.
Help be an editor when others are rushing along too hastily.
Refocus interrupters. Find the right channel for connecting with multi-taskers.
Do there things in the interest of clarity. Because good communication is a prerequisite for good work.
Yours and the work of everyone around you.
As you hone these skills, you will also be honing your communication skills, your leadership skills, and your social skills.
That turns out to be a more than fair trade off for your efforts.