Q: I was recently promoted to a managerial position that I’d had my sights on for a long time, but now I’m not sure I’m cut out for this job. It seems that everything I say or do results in a misunderstanding between my fellow managers and me. Any advice?
A: Misunderstandings are unpleasant under any circumstances, but especially so in the workplace, which is often already stressful. Add the pressure of learning a new leadership role, and it’s no wonder you’re discouraged. But don’t give up! Learning new responsibilities and building good working relationships both take time, so be patient. In the meantime, here are a few tips and reminders that may help.
- One thing at a time. Give the business at hand and those you are talking with your undivided attention.
- Listen. Hear your colleagues out before expressing your own thoughts and opinions, and never interrupt. This will not only help you benefit from their experience, but it is a way of showing respect, which wins respect.
- Ask for more information or a clarification, if necessary. A lot of communication problems stem from people being too proud to say they need more background information or don’t understand the point someone else is trying to make.
- Think things through. Know what you want to get across before you start to speak. This will help you be clearer, more specific, and more direct in your presentation, and therefore less likely to be misunderstood.
- Don’t overcommunicate. As John Kotter, a professor at the Harvard Business School and author of the international bestseller Leading Change, put it, “Good communication does not mean that you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.”
- Acknowledge your limitations. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know.”
- Watch your unspoken communications. Nearly everything you do communicates something to others. Punctuality communicates. Attentiveness communicates. Body language communicates. Your facial expression communicates. Your tone of voice communicates. Even silence communicates. Positive signals open lines of communication; negative signals hinder.
- Be sympathetic. To understand others, try to put yourself in their position. Why do they think or act the way they do? Be careful not to misread others’ body language. If you’re not sure about something, ask.
- Strive for unity. It’s easier to work with people than it is to work when at odds with them. Avoid conflicts and personality clashes by looking for common ground and admirable qualities in those you work with.
- Be positive. Build team spirit by dwelling on jobs well done and progress being made toward your united goals. Focus on problems from the angle of “how can we fix this” rather than “who’s to blame.”