As a high performer working in a fast-paced environment, you might fall into the trap of "moving too fast." Because you have already thought through an issue and how to address it, you might leave out some important information in what you communicate to your audience because YOU KNOW what you mean and how you got there. However, the person on the receiving end may need clarification about your conclusion, assumptions and supporting data. They can't read your mind.
Here’s a quick example to bring this to life. The other day I coached someone through her frustration about her relationship with her board. She couldn't understand why her board wouldn't step up to help her with fundraising. Her board chair explained what he needed from her to give her more support, and she responded by saying she needed something else. So, her board chair left with the distinct impression that she disagreed with his request, when in fact she agreed with most of what he asked for. However, she never said she agreed with him. Instead, she skipped over that important statement because she knew what she was thinking - and quickly moved on to her own ideas.
Had she said, "I agree and to build on that, I also think we need....," it would have shifted the entire interaction. This broken pattern of communication had been playing out between the two of them time and again, leaving both of them frustrated.
I am also working with another talented CEO whose good intentions are often misunderstood. His team observes his actions day-to-day and draws conclusions about what they demonstrate. In the process of interviewing his direct reports about his leadership effectiveness, the gap between his intentions and their conclusions became crystal clear.
So, what should you do to remove mind-reading from the equation? Start with these three tips:
1. Remember that each person has their own lens
People typically filter through information and draw conclusions based on the lens of their life experiences and their relationship with you. So, take time to think about how the other person might interpret your actions, especially if they have a strong opinion about you. Often, people are testing each of your actions against their hypotheses or conclusions, to confirm what they believe.
2. Simply notice how others react
Notice how others respond to your actions and words. Pay attention to their body language, tone of voice, energy level, and other reactions. What did they say in response? Really listen, instead of focusing on how you will respond. You may start to notice patterns and clues about how they interpreted your actions.
3. Focus on the headlines
Think about the one or two things you want others to know, to put your specific action, decision or behavior in the right context. Be careful not to get into too much detail, so they can hear your key messages or headlines.
Remember that just because YOU KNOW what you are talking about and what you mean, it doesn't mean that others will!!
By making slight tweaks to make your thoughts and intentions more transparent, you can vastly improve communications and relationships...and we can all get out of the business of mind-reading.
Neena Newberry has been coaching and advising executives and managers in midsize to Fortune 500 companies for over seventeen years. Through her coaching and consulting business, she helps organizations strengthen and grow their pipeline of leaders through executive coaching, development programs, workshops, and facilitation. Neena specializes in coaching high performing women managers and leaders in two-career families to get results they couldn’t before.