The Secret to Great Communication Every Time

How many times have you communicated a message to someone and followed up with “Do you understand?”  In response you get a head nod and an “Uh huh.”

USMC Drill Instructor barking orders

USMC Drill Instructor barking orders

When I was in boot camp, drill instructors barked orders at us all the time.  When they would give instructions, they would follow-up with this question – “Do you understand that?”  When said correctly, it sounds just like, “Undastanddat!?”  Now jack up the volume and say it again.

Our response was always the same, “Sir, yes sir!” Regardless of how loud I screamed, I often did not understand.  Bad things tended to happen at that point.

I remember the first time we were taught how to drill as a platoon.  Not pretty!  Drilling at its finest is choreography.  It is also beautiful when it is down correctly.  Check out this video of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team.  This is incredible.

My first day learning drill was the opposite of what you just saw.  I distinctly recall that day.  During a certain command, the entire platoon took a 45 degree turn to the right.  Barron here took a 90 degree turn.  I should have been wearing a sign that read “Please make me do push-ups until I create a pool of sweat from my brow.”  Not pretty.

The Drill Instructor communicated the instructions correctly.  Yet I didn’t get it.  What happened?  Where was the breakdown?

Leaders make this mistake all the time.  They assume that because they have clarity in their minds, you should get it.  Right?  Not so fast.  Let’s look at the communication process.

Communication Process

  1. Sender – The sender of the message has a thought.
  2. Encoding – This step involves the sender choosing words to communicate the thought.
  3. Message – Here, the sender chooses which medium to send the message.  It could be spoken, written, communicated through sign language, or even nonverbals.
  4. Decoding – Now the receiver of the message receives the message and interprets the meaning.
  5. Receiver – The receiver of the message now understands the original thought in the mind of the sender, right??

The break down occurs because words have meanings that could be different depending on where you are from.  All the experiences of your past impact how you interpret the words you hear.  Think of the word ‘father.’  Some of you are replaying great childhood memories.  Some of you are reliving painful memories.  To some of you, the word father means hero.  To others it means absent.  Your life experience gives meaning to words.

Because of this, every great leader and communicator adds a step to the communication process.  That step is feedback.  I was in a great workshop last week in Orange County, CA put on by MAP Consulting.  I loved how they framed this concept.  They call this the playback.  Once you communicate the message, have the receiver play the message back for you.

Here is the phrase you want to learn.  “So that I know I was clear, please play back for me…”  Here are _ reasons why this phrase is so important.

5 Reasons to Playback

  1. Ownership – As the sender of the message, you are taking responsibility that it was understood.  You are making sure that you were clear, not that the sender comprehended correctly.  This is a big distinction.
  2. Feedback – Without this step, you have no way to know that your words were interpreted correctly.
  3. Adjustment – Once you hear your message played back, you have the opportunity to adjust your message.  You may not need to, but you can add clarity before time is wasted going down the wrong path.  Have you ever misunderstood a message and cost your company thousands of dollars?  Millions?
  4. Accountability – Once clarified, there are no excuses.  The message was understood.  The entire team is on the same page moving towards the same goal.  And everyone knows it.
  5. Repeatability – This process is repeatable in at least two ways.  The first is playback can be used in every communication situation.  The second, though,It is also repeatable in that it allows you to repeat the playback step multiple times until the message is clearly understood.

Question:  How can you improve your leadership and communication by adding this playback step?  You can leave a comment below.

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