Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons on communication

I've worked very hard at improving my communication skills. Writing comes pretty naturally. Speaking I've had to practice a lot on. Non-verbal I'm still working through it but I'm making headway, although I think this area will always hold some confusion due to cross-cultural differences and me being oblivious.

Because I've had to work so hard at communication, I know I'm decent at it. I know I'm much better than I used to be. But there are times when I feel like I'm not getting through to anyone at all.

Today was one of those times. The other person was half at fault for not letting me know. I was at half at fault because today was not the first (or second or third or....) the other person has done this, and hence I should have known better, and hence I should have taken the initiative to double check with them. I'm really hung up over this because I HATE getting my lines of communication crossed.

So here is a list of some the things I've come to learn - the hard way - about communicating with people. Hopefully making a post about it will make it a big enough deal for me to remember the steps I've grown lax in. Some exceptions are applicable.

1. Never ever ever ever NEVER assume anything. People cannot read your mind. You cannot read other people's minds. Exception: you know each other so well that you've been able to anticipate each other's actions nearly 100% correctly. Still, sometimes it is useful to confirm.

2. Write it down, whatever "it" is. Write the date you wrote it down. If there is a deadline, write it down. If there is some action that needs to be done, either by you or someone else, write it down. Write all of it down!

3. Scan what you wrote frequently. More than once I've wrote things down then promptly forgotten it and I never go and look back because I don't think I've forgotten anything. But I did. This is why I painstakingly developed a habit of reading what I write in my daily notebook whenever I get a spare moment. Like at a red light (which is slightly dangerous, but I drive so much I can time the lights pretty accurately), or in an elevator, or in the waiting room, or on hold while on the phone, in the check-out line, during the few minutes before class starts, on public transport, etc. I also look through my day's notes before I leave the house, right before I leave every other location, and before I go to sleep at night.

4. Get a notebook. Carry it, and a pencil/pen, around all the time with you. I use a pencil (so I can make changes easily, although usually I just cross it out because I want to know what changes I made) and a really small pocket notebook. I also have other notebooks for more detailed planning + a monthly and weekly calendar.

5. Re-confirm. Send a summary message to the other parties involved. Make sure everyone has received it. They are ultimately responsible for making sure they read it and know what they need to do. I'm just making sure I do everything in my power to make sure other people know what I can (or can't, in today's case) do.

6. Did I mention writing it down? Documentation is also useful for when conflicts arise after the fact. Sometimes the mistake is mine. Because I'm human too, no matter how much I want things to go perfectly. When it is not my fault, I'll have proof, and no one can say otherwise. I know people who photograph/take video/voice recordings too.

7. After whatever the action is, send a follow-up. So the other parties know what happened.

I've been told to get a PDA device to do all this stuff more than once. PDAs are nice, but they are not for me. Personally, I think Blackberries are the ugliest handheld devices on the face of the planet. And to me, there is nothing so satisfying as writing in a pretty, Japanese style notebook with a Muji pencil. I also like to take out my old notebooks and read through them every so often. It makes me feel accomplished.

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