One of the greatest challenges most of us face in our daily communication with others is called the Intention/Perception Gap (I/P Gap). Simply stated, what you intended one way is perceived by others differently. For example, I say to my team that I need them to really drive hard for the last ten days of the quarter, intending to be encouraging and inspiring. What they perceived was that I was not appreciative of the work they were doing and expected them to sacrifice even more than they were already doing.
What Causes the Gap?
I would not have even known there was a gap between what I intended and what they perceived if one of my team members had not said to me later, “It seems that we can never do enough for you.” I was completely taken aback by his comment. How could a gap like this be possible?
First, as leaders, we need to understand that everyone has a unique come-from. Every person you communicate with has a unique set of circumstances and experiences that act as a filter for how they interpret life. This is true for you too. In my mind, I sounded like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart calling the troops to a fantastic finish. What they heard in their minds was me telling them they were coming up short, and I was disappointed in them.
How Do You Close the Gap?
So who’s to blame when the I/P Gap occurs? When it happens at home between my wife and me, I defend my comments, telling her I didn’t mean what she thinks I meant, and it is her problem; she heard it all wrong. Both at work and home, winning or being right is not a good strategy for long-term communication (or marriage) success. There must be a way to close the gap to make intention and perception equal.
When speaking about effective communication, author and speaker Brian Tracy said, “Accept complete responsibility both for understanding and for being understood.” Great communicators are intentional about owning both the intention and the perception in the communication.
Instead of saying whatever it is you have to say and expecting others to understand you, if you want to increase the effectiveness of your communication, you need to take not just responsibility but complete responsibility for the communication. This requires intentionality from the very first word. You also need to care more about the relationship than the message.
If you ever hope to fully understand what someone else is saying, you must learn to listen with the intent to understand versus the intent to respond. You learn to master the pause that people take when speaking, allowing them to continue without jumping in to make your point. You become more curious and learn to ask questions to help you learn more about what they are saying and why they are saying it. You can even encourage them to speak more with a simple phrase – tell me more.
Another tactic I use to ensure I fully understand is to state back to the person what I thought I heard them say. “What you are saying is… Is that right?” Once we agree as to what was said, now I can respond.
And For Being Understood
It is interesting that being understood is the final component of highly effective communication. When you put being understood first, as many of us do, you place the focus of the communication on you, not the person or people with whom you are communicating.
To increase your chances of being understood, try inserting questions to validate understanding in your comments. “Does that make sense?” “Do you understand?” “Do you have any questions?” By doing this, you open the door to others to confirm their understanding. You could also teach the lesson from the “For Understanding” section above to the people on your team. If everyone is embracing, “Accept complete responsibility both for understanding and for being understood,” the quality of your communication will skyrocket and the Intention/Perception Gap will virtually disappear.
Perry Holley is a coach and facilitator with the John Maxwell Company’s Corporate Solutions Group as well as a published author. He has a passion for developing others and seeing people grow into the leaders they were intended to become.