In your interactions with colleagues, there are times you may assume that you hold the same points of view. The more familiar you are, the more you use shorthand ways of communicating and coming to agreement. And that can be misleading.

You might have thought you came to an agreement...but then you see your colleague is not doing what you thought you agreed to, nor is the task being carried out on time. You might be puzzled and begin to question why it's happening, and wonder how this misunderstanding could have occurred in the first place. After all, you agreed. But what did you agree to?

There is an increasing amount of diversity in today's workplace. Greater mobility brings you together with colleagues of different backgrounds and experiences. Multiple generations interact on a regular basis. The mode of work is more complex, too, as some work is done virtually, communicating globally on a variety of platforms.

In these situations, nuances in communication can be lost. You may assume, for example, that because you all read the same memo, you all have the same understanding of the task at hand. Or that you all have a similar process in how to complete these tasks. As you probably know from experience, that is not always the case.

Assumptions are a natural part of life, and they help you determine whether it is safe or not to proceed. However, letting your communication in the workplace stay at the level of assumption does not always end well. It is important to ask questions for clarification to assure that when you go off to perform your role, you will be fulfilling a shared expectation.

It is also important to clarify assumptions so you have a deeper understanding of perspective. Your background is unique from those of your colleagues, and you hear what they are saying through your own unique filter. Your experiences and your background filter what you hear and then interpret to make meaning. Your understanding of what your colleague says is not necessarily how they intended to be understood.

Here are three tips on what you can do to ensure a smoother workflow.

1. Ask clarifying questions.

Conversations take many twists and turns. Instead of assuming you are tracking the developments the same as others, ask questions to make sure you are all on the same page before leaving the meeting. An example is, "Just to clarify, we will all draft a few ideas and place them in our shared folder by Friday, right?"

2. Surface underlying beliefs.

Do not take for granted that you understand the motivation behind comments being made. When someone asserts an idea or recommendation, take a step back to more fully understand their perspective. You might ask, "I'm curious to know more about your ideas on spearheading this new platform development. Can you explain a little about how you came up with this idea?" Of course, timing and tone of voice can influence how well this will be received. You need to really be curious!

3. Summarize decisions.

After you leave the meeting, it's good practice to share your understanding of the decisions and action steps. This can be a shared task if agreed to, so it does not feel like a burden. If you discover that there is not a shared understanding, it won't be too late to make modifications and correct course. It will save you and others and lot of angst later.

Published on: Apr 24, 2018