Dollars and Sense: What is said and heard can be different

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2006

There has been a lot of talk around the office about merger. One of the executives stops by and comments: &8220;We are looking into all kinds of possibilities that will help us maintain our viability and profitability.&8221;

After leaving, the office buzzed with the following comments: &8220;I didn&8217;t think we were in such trouble. This may be worse than I thought. I wonder if I should start looking elsewhere.&8221;

&8220;If we are looking to purchase another company, that means there will be layoffs and my job will be in jeopardy.&8221;

Sound familiar? If the leaders and managers don&8217;t fill in the &8220;white space,&8221; the people will and a great deal of time will be spent tending to all the possible variations of misinterpretation. This will result in lost productivity and even worse, the unintentional loss of good people.

White space represents the gap in thinking that always exists between what is said and what is heard. Anytime a leader speaks, he or she must assume there is misinterpretation. Why is this so?

The average person speaks at about 150 words per minute. People think at a rate of 450 &045; 600 words per minute. Our brains are thinking three to four times faster than the message we hear &045; that is a lot of time for minds to wonder.

Every person filters everything they hear through their own experience and perception model. If the current focus of my job is a very specific project and I perceive my future rests on the success of the project, it isn&8217;t difficult to understand how the executives statement is interpreted as a danger to career advancement; even though it wasn&8217;t said or implied.

Try the following steps to reduce &8220;white space&8221; misinterpretation:

uUnderstand that everything said will be scrutinized for meaning.

uSpend time thinking and preparing what you intend to say and how you will say it.

uAsk people how they feel, concerns they have, for questions.

uAddress the possible assumptions and summarize and check for understanding.

While this may seem cumbersome and time consuming, the application will actually save time, reduce misunderstanding and lost productivity, and help insure the loss of good people.