We’ve all been there. You are blindsided by an explosively negative reaction to a random comment you made, a business decision, or what you thought was a harmless email. It’s communication gone wrong. Why does this happen? And, most importantly is there a way to avoid it?
Sleuthing Out Clues
What if you could anticipate hot-button issues and avoid unknowingly ticking someone off, losing the deal, losing credibility, or losing respect? You can monitor for and pick up clues about the interests, values, and motivations of different people at work.
Here’s an example of when this happened to me. We decided to remove a certain type of information from a project I was working on. Our reasons were solid. My immediate supervisors and the key people being impacted reviewed and supported the decision. It was a no-brainer. But, after we made our announcement, we learned that a senior leader at the company was upset about the decision. This negative reaction shocked us and sent us scrambling for additional justifications and to brainstorm possible replacements. We had no idea he would care about this. Also, there was no reason to think we needed to run this choice by him. I should have known though. How?
Thinking back, months earlier he had sent me an “FYI” article focusing on this particular type of information. Since he emails me rarely, this must have been something very important to him. His email was a red flag waving in my face. If I had remembered that, coupled with some other references he made in previous years, I could have saved us a lot of trouble. We would have made the same decision. But, we'd have planned to communicate the decision with senior leadership and proactively addressed concerns.
Red Flag File
To prevent unexpected communication blowups, you can create a “Red Flag File”
Turn your observation meter up a bit and start documenting the clues that are being thrown at you each day. Create a file. It could be in a notebook, a spreadsheet, on your phone, whatever. All that matters is that you have a dedicated (and private) space in which you can easily make interesting observations about certain people as you observe them. In my example above, I would have noted that this senior leader cared about this particular type of content.
Jot down things as you notice them. They can be anything you find unusual, interesting, or noteworthy. For example, maybe your boss rolls her eyes at the words "leverage" and "strategize." It's best to avoid those words with her. Maybe you noticed that another person referenced the importance of some new technology on your industry. Even if talking about that technology puts you to sleep, it's a good idea to make note of it and consider how that information might impact future interactions (and projects) with that person.
Then, review your file on a regular basis. Just schedule a 10 minute meeting with yourself once a month or on whatever regular schedule you would find to be helpful. Your handy-dandy Red Flag File is your reminder. It’s your secret weapon to remembering what is on each person’s list so you can sidestep problems and anticipate questions.