"Expectations are the termites of relationships." I heard this observation long ago, and it still remains one of the most profoundly simple pieces of advice I have ever received.
A CEO client recently shared with me that he was frustrated with the lack of communication he was experiencing with a new partner. "How will I ever be able to trust him if he doesn't even answer my questions?" my client asked me.
I then asked my client, "Does he know how you like to receive and process information?" My client admitted that he had not even thought of that.
I pointed out that there are many ways people like to receive and process information. Often we don't think to ask this question, and we wrongly assume that others like to receive information the same way we do. These assumptions lead to communications breakdowns, unmet expectations, and erosions of trust.
I advised my client to remove the personalization of his partner's actions. "Can you share with your partner that you are a visual learner and you need to see information in order to fully understand it?" My client thought that was a brilliant suggestion.
In addition, I suggested that my client ask, "How do you prefer to receive information?" This single question immediately opens the door for improved communication.
This is something I ask every new client. With so many ways to communicate today, it's never a good idea to assume someone wants to receive information in a certain way. Options include texting, emailing, phoning, Linked In messages, and Messenger, just to name a few.
One of my cardinal rules is to recap all client conversations with written communication. After every call, I created a detailed status report outlining what we discussed, action items, and confirmation of our next meeting. This gives us a detailed paper trail of our progress, and the status report serves as a baseline for our next call.
Many clients have now adopted this process for their own client and employee interactions.
Meeting the Recipient Where They Are
As someone who holds a Master's Degree in Organizational Development and Instructional Systems Design, I've been trained to "meet the learner where they are." This means being aware of how a person best processes information & content so that they can apply and retain it.
If we deliver information in a way that is incompatible with how the person receives it, they will miss most of our message.
The Three Primary Ways People Process Information
There are 3 primary ways people process content:
- Visually. They best understand information when seeing images, diagrams, charts, demonstrations, etc.
- Aurally. They best understand information when it is explained in detail through active listening. Auditory learners will choose an Audible book over a bound book.
- Tactically and Kinesthetically. These people learn best by doing.
People usually have a primary and secondary processing mode.
It's important for leaders to know how their employees also process, and to ensure they are communicating in multiple ways so that people don't misinterpret or miss key messaging.
A Valuable Lesson In All Aspects of Life
People are born with their processing preference. It starts to manifest in the earliest days of our communication. When our 17-year old was in Kindergarten, in a class of 26 kids, his teacher stuck him in the back of the group during story-time.
As a visual learner, he completely tuned out of the story because he was staring at a bunch of heads. When she told me he had ADHD, I responded, "He is a visual learner. He is not an auditory learner. If you move him right in front of you, he will focus on the book."
She never complained again about his inattentiveness during story time.
Ask and Tell
By simply asking someone how they prefer to receive their information, and by telling them how you need to receive information, you've paved the way for abundantly clear communications and aligned expectations.