Have you ever had someone tell you what needs to be done only to find out later that what they meant and what you heard were not the same thing? This listening but not hearing phenomenon happens more frequently than you think.

The reason it happens is your brain is designed to protect you. So the entire time someone is talking with you, your brain is trying to figure out what they mean, why they want it and how it fits with what else is on your plate.  While all of those thoughts are going on, your brain is also INTERPRETING what they say through your own past experiences.  So if someone says to you, “I want to keep it simple since people don’t have a lot of time.” Your brain will immediately move to what you interpret “simple” to mean which could be completely off the mark.

So here is how to end endless hours of pain by not understanding what is wanted upfront:

  1. Have the person clarify all vague words.  Don’t allow ANY assumptions into the conversation or you are going down a dangerous path.
  2. If you have frequent misinterpretations with a person, then at the end of the conversation tell them you want to put a short “dry” run together and meet with them for 15 minutes to make sure you are on track before you start.  Then go back and do a quick overview of what you will do and how it will meet the goal.  Keep it simple, a one page sheet. When you meet with them ask them what you have missed or what are any problems that they see with what you pulled together.  If you have questions, have a simple list of them ready to go.
  3. When clarifying things, avoid yes or no questions and instead use questions that cause them to explain more fully.  Who, what, why, where, and how questions usually get them to flush things out more fully.

Take Action: In this next week try and notice how many times you and others use “vague” words.  Try to eliminate and replace all vague words in your dialogue to concrete words so there can be no misinterpretation.