There’s a commercial on-air recently that features two young singles on a blind date.  They speak openly about the backup plans for the evening and the rescue texts from their roommate that they have arranged.  The tagline is, “Wouldn’t it be great if everybody said what they meant?” It would be great.

How often do you get asked, “What did you mean by that?” For me, it’s pretty often.

What does that say about the state of communication in our world today?  We spend more time focusing on translation than on listening. Why are we afraid to speak openly with each other?  Why do we veil our true intentions rather than get to the point?

Maybe it’s because we want to be kind. I wouldn’t fully embrace Nick Lowe’s sentiment in his song “Cruel to be Kind,” there is a golden nugget of wisdom there.  Kindness comes from clarity, transparency, and honesty.

Directness and transparency are critical. Honesty saves time.  I recently had a conversation with a colleague, she was delicately questioning a decision I had made that didn’t work for her schedule. After a couple minutes of talking around the issue I asked her, “Did I make a mistake? It’s ok to tell me if I made a mistake.”  In today’s business environment we have too much to do and not enough time. We can save time by being direct, open, and honest.  Good, clear dialogue.

In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge explores the process of group learning through dialogue:

“The discipline of team learning starts with ‘dialogue’, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking together’. To the Greeks dia-logos meant a free-flowing of meaning through a group, allowing the group to discover insights not attainable individually….” (Senge 1990: 10).

Subtext will undermine the process and group dynamics, every-single-time!

I think we would make more progress if we could all agree to eliminate subtext in our daily conversations.  Let’s say what we mean; let’s stop looking for hidden meaning in each other’s words.  Let’s check our egos at the door and agree to try to not take feedback personally; let’s agree to assume positive intentions in our conversations.  Clarity, simplicity, and transparency will lead us all toward better results, to better outcomes.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on August 22, 2016

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