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On the fly!

Think about all the changes that have occurred in how we work over the past 5 years, 2 years, 6 months, or even since yesterday!

Heck, when I started working in offices, “cc” truly meant a piece of carbon paper (nasty stuff) inserted between white paper in the roll of the typewriter so that as each key was struck (manually), an image was created on the second piece of paper. That is how we created copies. Then the documents were put in envelopes and actually mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to their destination. And we waited several days for the response, again via mail (because phone calls were expensive and fax machines were more like ticker tape).

Now we can text, email, call while driving (hands free of course), and even interact from 30,000 feet on an airplane.

So how do we keep communication effective when so much of it is done “on the fly”—literally and figuratively?

One of the most significant challenges (and areas of wasted time) that I see in teams and businesses today is miscommunication (missed communication). Communication on the fly! In other words, I shoot off a text filled with what I believe to be very clear instructions to you. And you read something entirely different than what I was intending to write. Does this ever happen to you?

This just happened to me the other day in my own household. I got a text that said “gotta get fish”—which I read to mean I should get the fish, and so we ended up with two portions of fresh fish when we only needed one.

Time was wasted. Both of us are self-employed and extremely busy professionals. The time that we both took to stop and get the fish, well, that time is “spent” and can never be recouped. And while it doesn’t sound like too much bother, when we add up all the time that is spent in a day because of missed communications, it can get pretty costly.

Check it out for yourself. Over the next few days, take notice of how many times you observe the following:

  • A false start on a project because directions weren’t clear.

  • Meetings start late because of lack of clarity of location or time.

  • You hear, “I thought you were doing that piece of the project.”

  • Someone asks, “Didn’t you get my text/call/email?”

Notice how many times you see someone (perhaps yourself) spending time making corrections or adjustments based on a missed communication.

So what do we do about all of this miscommunication?

A few simple practices (that all involve slowing down to speed up) can improve the clarity and precision of communication, result in a big savings in time, and increase the pace at which we are able to meet or exceed expectations.

When initiating communication

Include these basics:

  • Who

  • What

  • When

  • Where

  • How

Reread your communication

Imagine that you are the receiver. Where are you leaving another person to make assumptions? Did you invite questions or clarification? “If this isn’t clear, please call me before you start the project.”

When communicating with your team (or family) be clear on the specific role of this piece of communication. “This is to inform you of my decision” or “I am seeking your input,” etc.

If the other person needs to take action

Be specific. “Please give me your answer by Thursday at 5:00 p.m.” “Submit your questions via email by Tuesday.”

Stop and listen

It is so tempting to multi task when someone is speaking, especially when you are not face to face (which in this technological age is most of the time). But fully listening, without distraction, for even a few minutes can prevent hours of wasted time later.

When receiving communication

Don’t make assumptions if you have questions. Instead of plowing forward, take a breath, and ask clarifying questions.


When missed communication or miscommunication happens, take time to reflect asking these simple questions:

  • What happened (where did the miss occur)?

  • What can I do differently in the future to prevent this kind of miss?

  • What feedback might be helpful to share with others so that they can understand how to communicate with me more effectively?

I can hear you saying, “But I don’t have time for all this. My to-do list is too long.” Believe me, slowing down to speed up is the most important practice of all. Time is the only non-renewable resource in the workplace and in our daily lives.

Practicing these simple yet highly effective steps will help them become part and parcel of all you do and soon, you will notice not only will you save time but those you interact with will also begin to reap the rewards through your clarity!

Have you had to work with that person who is too valuable to fire but whose communication and leadership style continually make others cringe and put the company at risk? Beth Wonson’s unique combination of experience as a business leader, a non-profit leader and 20 years consulting on team development, organizational change and coaching leaders, make her the go to person for transforming personnel liabilities into personnel assets.


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