Why some people don’t ‘get’ you. And what to do about it.

23rd February 2016

One of my favourite analogies about communication is Paul McGee’s beachball…

When two people speak, imagine a beach ball floating between them.

The ball has six coloured segments; but each person can only see the three of them on their side.

So, Mrs A thinks the ball is red, white and blue; Mr B thinks it’s yellow, green and orange.

They’re both right. But they’re both different.

What he’s saying is that, when you communicate with someone, you see your words in one way; and they receive them in another. That’s one of the reasons communication often doesn’t work well. Because you’re both thinking different things.

It’s a great way to look at it, isn’t it? (if you like his idea, and want more of them, check out his website – www.thesumoguy.com).

Another way to look at this is to think of the two I’s:

  1. Intention – when you speak, you intend to convey certain things
  2. Impact – when others hear what you say, it has a particular impact on them. This might – or might not – be the same as your intention

Some examples…

When a salesperson says, “We were founded in 1922”, the intention is to convey history; the impact is customers think “Why are you telling me how old you are?”

When your boss asks what progress you’ve made since yesterday, she might be intending to find out so she can brief her boss; but the impact on you might be “so, you think I’m behind, do you?”

When a colleague creates a communication following a brief you gave them, but gets it “wrong”, you intended your brief to say “prepare it like X”; but the impact was “Do Y”

And when a parent tells a toddler to pack up their batman toys and pop upstairs so they can have a jolly good night’s sleep before nursery, the intention might be to help the child enjoy nursery tomorrow; but the impact is … well, there is no impact. Either that or it’s “Dad, I am playing with batman”!

Other people see the beach ball differently to how you see it. So it’s easy to misunderstand each other.

Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to see things from each other’s side. For example, you could:

  • Ask for feedback. In other words, ask what impact your communication had on them
  • Ask for feedforward. If someone asks you to create a communication for her, ask in advance what impact she wants to have, and therefore what the content needs to be
  • Prepare better. Before a communication, think “What’s most important to her?”, and talk about that
  • You recap. During conversations, recap what you’ve discussed – “I think we’ve agreed X. Is that what you think?”
  • They recap. Ask her to say back to you what she thinks you’ve just said

When I write Tuesday Tips, my intention is to give you ideas you can use immediately. Yes, I want you to enjoy reading them. But my #1 intention is to give you something you can use. So, that’s why they’re always practical, short and end with a clear Action Point. Here’s this week’s…

Action point

For your next communication today, think “What’s the other side of the beach ball? What are they most likely to be thinking? And how can I tailor what I say so it comes at things from their side?” This won’t take you long to do. Both of you will be delighted you did.

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