The Brits have an expression, "Too clever by half." It is not a compliment: It refers to people who create a sense of distrust because they come across as wily.
Whether working with employees, vendors, prospects, or clients, one of the most valued elements of a relationship is trust. In this multicultural, global economy, you can create distance by appearing clever or hard to read. And in new relationships, such misperceptions can be very damaging.
Here are a few typical ways that we accidentally break our trust relationships with people who matter.
1. Jargon: Every discipline has lingo and shorthand–it doesn't matter if you're a lawyer or an engineer. But when communicating with people not of your discipline, using jargon doesn't demonstrate expertise; it creates a sense of exclusion.
2. Lengthy agreements and contracts: Lawyers are in the business of risk management in the contract process. This is both necessary and understandable. But when a contract cannot be understood by the person signing it, it creates a sense of foreboding. Plain language in a contract is still actionable–and has a better chance of being understood and signed.
3. Inside jokes and references: When colleagues speak in front of an outsider and exchange "knowing looks" as well as insider terms, it creates a clear feeling of exclusion and distrust. Avoid it.
4. Overly complex scenarios: People tend to explain their ideas with complex, multi-layered examples. During training sessions, I'll sometimes turn to one of the other members of a group and ask, "What did he just say?" Often the answer is not what the speaker had intended. If you are using examples, make certain that you have used them before and know that they are clear.
5. Devil's advocacy: When a person declares his role in a conversation as the devil's advocate, he often compromises his own credibility–since the approach is usually a thinly veiled attempt to put forth a personal agenda. If you disagree, just be frank about it: Say, "I don't understand ..." and ask your question–or "I don't agree with ..." and make your point.
Better Way to Communicate
Instead of making these mistakes, follow the following communication guidelines:
- Speak a common language. Jargon and acronyms often create misunderstanding. This is amplified in a global economy with business partners of different languages and cultures. Use straightforward and direct terms to be understood and trusted.
- Be simple and clear. The best contract should be able to be understood by a high-school junior. I'm serious: If you want to understand how clear your language is, have a high-school junior or senior read the agreement and then tell you what it says. If they can explain the core of the agreement accurately, it passes the test.
- Stop trying to translate idioms. Every culture has its own expressions. But idioms are hard to translate and makes those who do not share the cultural reference feel isolated or confused. Rather than stumble through explanations, just avoid them in the first place.
Complexity can create distance as well as distrust. Work for clarity and simplicity if you want more trust and better relationships.