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Misunderstandings: Don’t avoid, address

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By Johanne Bouchard EBS Business Columnist

Misunderstandings are a source of many problems affecting cooperation, collaboration, the successful outcome of partnerships, and productivity.

“It was an unfortunate misunderstanding, and we parted ways,” or “We just weren’t able to understand each other, got frustrated and gave up.” Do these scenarios sound familiar?

In business and in our personal lives, misunderstandings can shut the door to possible relationships or partnerships, and they can create unnecessary quarrels and challenges.

Miscommunications are bound to happen, but there are things we can do to prevent or minimize them, or address them properly when they arise.

Communicate with clarity. Don’t hurry communication before having fully thought out what you intend to say. This can cause you to exclude details that appear obvious to you, but may not be obvious to the receiving parties.

Be clear with your expectations and decide what you intend to achieve. Make sure you’ve thought about the eventual questions that customers, members, employees, partners, or friends might have.

For example, when you’re about to launch a new product, open a new retail space, announce a new strategy to employees, or offer a new promotion for customers, be comprehensive and thorough in as few communiqués as possible. If you’re not prepared to share all of the details but feel pressed to share something, state in your communication that you’ll follow up with specifics when you’re able.

When you schedule a remote meeting, make sure you have everyone’s full contact information so you can reach them with any changes. Confirm all meeting details – time, date, length, and expectations – when scheduling, and follow up the day prior.

Never assume. Don’t get caught saying, “I thought it was obvious; it was to me.” Ensure that people will understand you by considering how they are likely to perceive your communications. Ask yourself the questions you need to understand their perspective, and confirm you’re on the same page more than once.

When you’re in a meeting and agreeing to action items, make sure everyone is walking away with the same understanding of the steps going forward. Make sure someone in the meeting is tasked with tracking all action items and recapping them in a follow-up email – including the responsible parties and their deadlines.

Control the ripple effect. If you’ve arrived for a meeting and the other party doesn’t show up, don’t be too quick to judge him or her – this can cause a negative ripple effect. Follow up and find out what happened. The other party might have had an emergency and was unable to reach you, or perhaps they did try to reach you and the message was never received.

Be humble. If you’re the source of a misunderstanding, don’t keep the other party in the dark – have the decency to explain what happened. Find a way to rescue the situation and avoid fallout through humility, tact and a speedy acknowledgement of your error.

In business and in life, people have misunderstandings, but we can try to limit them with foresight and consideration. “Should haves” and “could haves” don’t fix misunderstandings, but the right kind of outreach can.

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech marketing executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. Visit to learn more or download her recently published eBooks “Board Composition” and “Board Basics.”

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