A Conscious Choice



Remember the old saying about the word ‘assume’? If not, just ask around. It won’t take long to find someone who can tell you. We all make assumptions about others – and most often, we eventually regret doing so.

Assumptions are toxic. They can poison the human mind and spirit in less than a second. Most often misinterpretations of others’ intent, attitude, tone and body language, assumptions can quickly become a driving force behind strained relationships, and strained relationships can quickly steal a person’s life force, or motivation.

In time, this dynamic can evolve into a cultural virus.

There’s a catch . . . not all strained relationships look or feel strained. A strained relationship is when one of the people in the relationship is dissatisfied. That doesn’t mean the person will verbalize it. On the contrary, most won’t, as they perceive such open dialogue as initiating conflict.

Seldom will you find an employee who is willing to initiate conflict with their boss.

This isn’t surprising given the data suggesting that most leaders aren’t willing to have candid conversations. A pre-pandemic study showed that 69% of managers reported being uncomfortable communicating with employees. Fast forward to post-pandemic challenges in the workplace, and we’ll find that leaders are overwhelmed, which will typically exacerbate communication issues. Put the two together, and we have a situation on our hands.

According to Mehrabian’s 7-38-55 Communication Model, only 7% of a message is received by words alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we readily understand a message without words. It simply implies that non-verbal communication is crucial in the delivery of a message – especially one that may evoke emotions.

Candid conversations regarding conflict of any kind certainly evoke emotions.

Misinterpreted non-verbal communication cues (e.g. tone and body language) can be messengers of misinformation – and can often reflect the difference between a top producing team and a mediocre one.

Poor assumptions are made when individuals draw their own conclusions about intent and attitude, which are often derived from non-verbal communication cues. So what does this mean for leaders?

It means that you are being judged for how you are making a person feel. From there, the person determines whether or not you, their leader, are a person worthy of the investment of their sacred time and energy.

Communicating clearly is hard enough. Communicating candidly and clearly takes that challenge to the next level. Communicating candidly and clearly when you feel overwhelmed . . . well, you get my point. That’s tough stuff.

Thankfully it is perfectly achievable when you prioritize it.

Though it’s easy to make a rash judgment, especially when we are hurried and stressed out, it can turn a simple challenge into a more complex situation that later warrants excessive resources to unravel and resolve.

Over the last 20 years I have found that nearly 100% of the conflict I am hired to resolve originated from a simple misinterpretation of intent and behavior that had a domino effect impact on the culture. In other words, had there been more open, honest and clear communication on a consistent basis, negative assumptions wouldn’t have been made. Nothing would have escalated. A simple problem could have been solved easily and quickly.

Instead, it became a poison that spread over time, changing the trajectory of the work itself – particularly impeding productivity – and the health of the culture.

Though I always stand ready to help turn an acute crisis into a victory in the workplace, I find it just as gratifying when I help whole teams clean up their communication skills and habits before a major crisis occurs.

Some leaders love to inspire and motivate their teams, and as a result, they are always up to the task of refining their communication skills.

Is this you?

If not, it’s never too late to aspire to it. After all, isn’t every role in life more fun when you love doing it? Once you make that decision, you’ll find it much easier to not only hone mad communication skills. You’ll actually come to enjoy the challenge.

Once again, you got this.