by Bill Catlette • 7/23/20 • Memphis
Check For Understanding
Too often, as busy leaders, we get a little out over our skis in communicating with our teammates, and sometimes – often perhaps, our messaging winds up with sub-optimum clarity or effect. While I don’t presume to understand all the possible causes of the loss of signal, I do know one of the cardinal cures: Checking for understanding. Rather than assume that a message has been received and understood as intended, why not take a few seconds and check in with the receiver before moving on? In fact, I will submit that, depending upon the complexity of the message, our job as sender isn’t done until we verify that what we intended and think we said was heard, absorbed, and accepted.
Sometimes, the message verification process can be accomplished via a simple, “Did you get that?” “Uh huh.” Or, “tell me what you just heard.” In some cases involving more complex messaging, we’re well advised to confirm the exact details of what was received. Aircraft pilots are taught (and required) to read back instructions given to them by air traffic controllers. “Delta 469, turn left to heading two seven zero, climb and maintain flight level three seven zero.” The pilot parrots back their assignment, often slightly abbreviated, while the controller listens carefully for message synchronization: “Left to two seven zero, climb and maintain three seven oh, Delta 469.”
Air traffic controllers and pilots are well trained (and paid) professionals, and get the message discipline baked in early in their training. No one feels belittled by the verification process. Given the consequences of mistakes in their business, they’re happy to comply.
One thing we can do to encourage more of this is by modeling it from the other direction. When a teammate has told us something more than a simple fact, we can play it back to them for confirmation… “What I heard you say is…” This not only allows us to clean up any mis-messaging right then, but it also confirms that we value and want to understand what they are telling us.
One helpful device that can be baked into your team’s messaging discipline is to employ a term that allows members to interrupt and signify that the message has been received, and we can move on. For years, I’ve used, and encouraged others to adopt the acronym, “PAC” for point absolutely clear. Under most circumstances, a member can fast forward a conversation by simply saying “PAC.” Sometimes the results are amazing as meetings can be brought to a quicker, more successful conclusion, which makes everyone happy. Ding!
Be happy, stay safe!