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Practicing Effective Communication

Do you think before you text?

Why do we miscommunicate?

There are many reasons why we misinterpret an incoming message. And worse than that, sometimes we don’t think...before we text right back. Let’s look at some of the most common mistakes texters make.

Can you pause?

Everyone talks, people rarely listen. What if you are on the “receiving” end of a text, and you start feeling defensive before a point is completely made? Do you take time to understand the intent? Could you give the sender the benefit of the doubt? Can you put some distance between your feelings and your answer before you text back? 

Can you slow down?

Texting, perhaps more than any other modern communication channel, has spoiled us to expect an immediate response, a 24/7 expectation of connection, and the ability to get someone’s attention. It’s easy to get caught up in responding instantly, before you have a chance to process everything. Can you slow down? How important is it to get “right back” to someone? Can you reset the expectation for your response time?

Can you get clarification?

In the workplace, what a manager texts and what they mean are often two very different things. If the incoming message from the sender is unclear, could you ask for clarification? And, what’s the best way to do that, without annoying your boss? 

Scenario: “Unhappy Client”

Let’s look at what could be a typical text exchange between someone who is in service to another person, in this case, the account manager is responsible for meeting the needs of the client (who, presumably is paying for the account manager’s services).

The scenario goes like this: 

Client text (sender): I’m not happy with the report you sent. I need an updated version by end of day.

Account manager (responder):  What should the account manager’s response be? How can the account manager reply without being defensive? How should she interpret the text’s tone and implicit message? 

Because of their past exchanges, at minimum the account manager considers that the tone of the text is critical and unclear, and that its construction is abrupt or perfunctory. In addition, because the client has been considered “high maintenance” in terms of the time and attention she requires, the message is also interpreted by the account manager as demanding.  

The account manager has a string of thoughts about the incoming text that trigger negative emotions, that go something like…

1: The client is not satisfied with my work.

2. The client sounds angry, or frustrated.

3. She did not volunteer information that would help me to make the report more satisfactory.

4. She is in a hurry to get a corrected or updated version of the report from me.

5. She “expects me to read her mind!”

6. This client is always a pain, and is never happy with my work, or anybody else’s, for that matter!

Do any of these seem familiar to you?

If you took all of the emotion and prior judgments and frustrations out of the exchange, what is the client really saying? It’s as simple as: “I need something else from you.” ----------------

Stripping away all the other stuff, with the simple and unlayered message of “I need something else from you,” I ask you:

How would you reply?

Your goal is to frame a response that allows the account manager to maintain an amicable connection with the client, without damaging the relationship, and also getting the additional information she needs in order to give the client the “something else” she needs…by the end of the day.

Let’s try it again:

Client text (sender): I’m not happy with the report you sent. I need an updated version by end of day.

Account manager (responder):  What should the account manager’s response be? How can the account manager reply without being defensive?


Here are some general suggestions that may help reframe this scenario for the best response. Pause. Reflect. Recognize. 9 times out of 10, miscommunication often flies under the radar before we realize what is happening. Take a minute to really analyze and step back from the conversation. Change how you think. Understand that we live in a world that requires us to adjust how we respond to it, oftentimes without seeing human facial expressions or being able to read body language, or other non-verbal forms of communication. Stephen Covey said it so well so many years ago: “begin with the end in mind.” Before you even consider responding, consider first the positive outcome you desire for you or the other person, or, most importantly, the relationship you share. If you assume the worst, you are likely to get it…and, to respond in kind! Try not to assume. Take a risk at being the better communicator, and help the client learn from your skill and equanimity.

Ask open ended questions if you are unclear about what is being asked or expressed. Try to gain clarity, in as brief and positive way as possible. This allows the conversation to be transparent and feel more collaborative. Plus, it keeps you from sending an emotional response that might sound defensive, blaming, excusing, or otherwise deflecting the expressed criticism or problem. Don’t burn bridges. Though sometimes it feels really good to say or text just what you feel–stop for a minute. Are you projecting other feelings unrelated to this conversation onto this person? Reflect first as to why you are feeling the way you do. You may find you’re not as mad or hurt or frustrated as you think you are. Or if it is upsetting, consider an alternate response when you’ve had more time to articulate your feelings when your mind has settled.

As an endnote, I would add: Step back and put things in perspective.

Critical words can skew the moment, but not destroy you. Or the relationship. First, you don’t know what other things the client is struggling with. Moreover, remember that you are valuable, and valued. There’s a reason why you were chosen to do this work to begin with. Assume that you are good at what you do, and give the client the benefit of the doubt, even if she could have communicated her needs better. There are plenty of opportunities to miscommunicate. All you can do is learn to do better, and help those in your sphere get better at communicating, too. Hopefully, you are setting the example with your healthy and helpful responses. Focus on you. And how you think, before you text!


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