Nothing seems as frustrating as finding that which you have stated in
plain English has been misunderstood or mis-communicated. Equally
frustrating is having an inability to say what is on your mind to another
person. Let’s examine these verbal issues.

1. Clarity of your Statements
As you gaze upon the countenance of another person, you will clearly note that
the other person looks very different from you. That fact is obvious. What is
equally true, but not as obvious, is that the brain of the other person is just as
different from yours as that visage appears to be. And, what that means is that
the words that you use or the phrase or message that you convey to the other
can have just as different an interpretation by that person as the two faces are

Recently, I used the word ‘acceptable’ to a person. My interpretation of the word
was to mean that the issue had achieved my goals and hence was acceptable.
My friend explained that his meaning of acceptable was conditional, namely that
the acceptable issue has passed but it lacked some needed refinement. Two
interpretations of the simple word ‘acceptable’!

2. Solutions to Clarity
First, you must allow for the possibility of a misinterpretation occurring easily.
One way to help reduce that possibility is to state the point a second time using
completely different words.

A second, and quite effective way to assure clarity, is to have the other person
repeat back to you their understanding of what you just said. This is easier to do
with people ranked below you, but more difficult, culturally speaking, to do with
people equal to or above us in the hierarchy of our mind.

Or, after a verbal conversation, send an email to the person stating: “This is my
understanding of our conversation earlier today. If I do not hear from you within
48 hours, I will assume my interpretation is similar to your’s.”

3. Saying the Un-sayable
If you are in the delicate situation of having to convey an unpleasant message to
another person such as “you are a dirty mess” or “you reek of body odour” or
“you talk too much”, you would not be alone if you decided to not speak directly
about it. Many people confronted by these or similar situations hope that the
indirect means that they often use, would be understood by the offender. For
example, instead of saying ‘you talk too much’, they might either make a light
joke of the loquaciousness or continue working at their desk while the gabby
person continues the monologue. Neither of these approaches will work. There
is only one way to deal with it – the direct way. But you do need to be clever
about it.

4. Solutions to Difficult Messages
Often, the bull-in-a-China-shop approach will work (“You stink, Harry!) but
most of us are not socially prepared to be so direct. What I recommend is

  • You accept the necessity of this communication falling into your lap.
  • Prepare yourself for a verbal exchange by writing down what you
    might say. In our example, let us imagine you have a production
    worker, who otherwise is very good in her work, but talks too much
    to other workers.
  • Attempt to deal with facts, not emotions.
  • Clarify that your emotions regarding this issue are your own
  • Get feedback from the employee after you have exchanged the
  • Do not argue with their protests, if they come, but let the person’s defending statements pass unchallenged – although you should reinforce your point.

Your note to yourself might read as follows:
Mary, I don’t wish to belittle the good work you do here, but I find that
you talk too much. It simply bothers me because I don’t think it is a
good work habit and I think you are wasting your time. I think you waste
other workers’ time too.

Your resulting conversation might come out as follows:
Mary, we need to chat about something that has been on my mind for a
while. Actually, I am not sure how to say this to you, but it is important
enough to me to bring it up now. As your supervisor, I find it difficult to
praise your otherwise good work when I find, what seems to me, you
talking so often with other workers. I ask you not to visit other stations
to chat unless it is strictly a business issue. Does this make sense to

She replies
I always only talk about business when I visit other people.
You respond
I am glad to hear that. Just try to minimize the visits if you can.

Even though you may not believe her response, nothing is served by getting
into a debate. You have communicated a difficult message. End of story.
And, believe me, she will absorb your message. She will understand that her
repeated conversations affects your assessment of her work, and ultimately
of her promotions and pay raises.

Good luck