Remember the game of telephone we played as kids in which one person starts the game by whispering a sentence to the person to their right? This goes around until the message circled back to the last person, who would say it out loud. With messages routinely garbled, hilarity ensued.
But have you ever played the game of telepathy? This is when you communicate to someone while assuming they know all the same facts that you do! Hilarity does not always ensue in these cases.
Sometimes the issue is minor, such as a scheduling mix-up. When a client called me today, he engaged in semi-small talk, including the basic how are you. When I said I was looking forward to meeting him tomorrow, it turned out the meeting was earlier today. It was then I realized why he was checking in with me. He was too polite to say, where were you? We then realized that the meeting schedule was miscommunicated. We pivoted to making another plan.
What about more nuanced or longer-running misunderstandings. You and a business associate or colleague could have been talking past each other without realizing it. I used to work for a corporation whose management training focused in part on this phenomenon.
A trainer asked if anyone ever thought someone else was an idiot. Once the laughter quieted, the trainer had a follow-up: what if the other person was simply armed with a separate set of facts than you? Furthermore, what if the so-called, hypothetical “idiot” actually had different marching orders than you?
Surely, we’ve all experienced that realization that another party or team is being instructed differently, even in the same company. I once had a boss who found it annoying when another team had a meeting to talk about how to integrate with our team, but did not invite him to their chat.
Or, perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of a bewildering email. Sometimes, even in seeking clarification based on what you know the situation becomes even more confusing and/or aggravating. Now, you are just plain fed up. Before firing off an angry email in response, consider a different approach.
You could write something to the effect of, say, Joe, I feel like we’re approaching this situation from very different perspectives – maybe you know something I don’t know! Hopefully, you will diffuse any annoyance or worse emotion on the other end. Indeed, maybe he does know something you don’t know. Also, the dollop of self-deprecation may soften the tone. Joe might also realize it’s possible you know something he does not. At the very least, Joe should appreciate the neutral acknowledgement that something is screwy and you want to pleasantly clear it up.
Simply put, the game of telepathy is always a loser. Use your communication skills to gracefully ask questions, including open-ended questions that may elicit answers you did not expect. Listen as carefully as you speak to ensure you do not miss important information or cues. Best of all, if a digital dialogue is going nowhere fast, use the telephone function of your phone verbally make the connection!