This Month's Spotlight: Communication

Common Cents - How To Turn Costly Assumptions Into Opportunities It is believed that more than 60% of all problems within the workplace and within relationships are a direct result of faulty communication. Failure to ...

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Common Cents - How To Turn Costly Assumptions Into Opportunities

It is believed that more than 60% of all problems within the workplace and within relationships are a direct result of faulty communication. Failure to identify or confirm with the other person the next step during a planning process, ineffective delegation, or the inability to actively listen for what the other person really needs can dramatically effect the results we seek to achieve during a conversation.

It seems as if more people in the business community are spending a significant portion of their time handling customer problems. A recent report revealed an increase in customer dissatisfaction. In many industries, consumer complaints are on the rise. Continually having to alleviate problems with customers overshadows a company's efforts to accelerate their success or create new business opportunities.

Normally, the tactical response to these challenges is to either fix the blame or fix the problem. At some point during the implementation of either of these two strategies, part of the problem is believed to be the result of the lack of common sense in one of the parties involved.

According to the dictionary, common sense suggests sound, yet unsophisticated judgement or an average degree of aptitude without special knowledge. Based on this definition, it's common sense not to walk in front of a moving car or touch a hot stove.

Although a familiar phrase, it's frequently used out of context. The term common sense is often used when comparing someone else's knowledge to our own. Think about a reaction that you may have had when you delegated a task and the outcome didn't meet your expectation. It then cost you time and energy when you had to complete the task yourself or re-train the individual to do it the "right" way.

We often attribute certain problems to the lack of knowledge that we feel the other person "should" have possessed. How do you respond when you discover that a person doesn't possess the same knowledge or skill set that you believe to be commonplace? Your internal dialogue might sound like, "Well it's just common sense to do that" or "They should already know that."

Salespeople sometimes fall into this common sense trap when creating solutions for their clients. During a conversation with a client, they uncover a similar situation or problem that they have handled with a previous client. So, they assume that the same solution will fit for this client as well.

The problem arises when the salesperson fails to invest the time to go beyond what may be obvious and explore the client's specific challenge or concerns.

Thinking they "know" this client, the salesperson provides them with the benefits of their product/service that they perceive to be important, without considering the client's particular needs.

The phrase, "common sense" is an oxymoron; a combination of contradictory words. "Jumbo shrimp," a "small crowd," an "exact estimate," "constructive criticism" or the saying, "act naturally," are some common oxymorons used today.

Look at the phrase common sense. According to the dictionary, "Common" suggests something familiar or general. "Sense" implies conscious awareness or the ability to reach intelligent conclusions refined by experience, training and maturity.

Your "common" sense is based on your own experiences, education, culture and environment. Your beliefs, knowledge and skills have been learned and developed over time. So, what we think people know or "should" know, and what they actually know are often entirely different. Yet, we sometimes believe that someone else's level of knowledge or experience should be the same as our own!

Although there may be some general knowledge that we all share, the level of wisdom varies from person to person. What is common sense to you or what might be an obvious solution or action to take in a situation can appear very different to someone else, because everyone shares different life experiences.

Think about how much time you've invested in developing a certain skill or learning about your product, service, or industry. We take this knowledge for granted; sometimes expecting our customers, employees and our family members to be familiar with this knowledge, even though they have never been exposed to it.

To overcome the common sense trap, follow these suggestions:

1. Make No Assumptions: Recognize that learning and wisdom are results of experience. You're more knowledgeable than you think, so don't assume your sense to be common. You'll notice that many communication breakdowns will immediately be eliminated.

2. Identify The Knowledge Gap. That's the space between what the other person knows and what they don't know. Instead of assuming what they know, start determining what they need to know in order to fill in this gap and ensure clear communication. You'll increase your awareness and become more sensitized to what the other person needs to learn. Use questions to uncover what's needed to fill in the blanks. Example: "Just so I don't sound repetitive, how familiar are you with....?"

3. Question Everything. If you're in the business of providing solutions, whether they're for your staff or your clients, invest the time to uncover the person's specific need or problem as opposed to providing common solutions that you assume may fit for everyone. For example, the words "Happy, frustrated, successful, satisfied, affordable and overwhelmed," can be interpreted in a variety of ways and often carry a different meaning for each of us. When you hear someone make a comment like, "I want a successful career that I can enjoy," use this opportunity to explore deeper into what they want most. Ask questions such as, "What does success look like to you?" Questions allow you to clarify what you've heard or go into a topic in more depth so you can become clear with what they are really saying. You'll then be able to provide a custom solution that's a perfect fit for them.

4. Recall Your Learning Curve. Think back to your first day on the job and the time it took for you to learn a new skill set. Chances are, you've probably experienced some frustration during the learning process. After all, at one point, all your knowledge was new to you. The same holds true for the people you come in contact with. What may seem old or common to you is new to them. Support others by being empathetic throughout their learning curve.

Eliminating the common sense trap will prevent you from making faulty assumptions that cause breakdowns in communication or act as a barrier to creating desired results. Once this knowledge gap has been closed, you'll experience fewer problems and recognize greater opportunities that clearly make sense.

Copyright 2000, Keith Rosen