Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Talk is cheap, but misunderstandings can be costly

A new young worker at a construction site sat down to eat his lunch with the rest of the crew.  As an older fellow opened his thermos to pour out coffee the young worker asks, “What’s that?”

The older fellow says, “It’s a thermos bottle.”

“What is it for?” the young worker asks.

“It keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold,” the older fellow said.

The next day the young worker arrives at the construction site with his own thermos. 

The older fellow asks, “Whatcha got in your thermos?”

“Two cups of HOT coffee and a glass of COLD ice tea.”

“Communication does not begin with being understood, but with understanding others,” said W. Steven Brown, founder and chairman of the Fortune Group International.

Avoiding misunderstandings is fundamental to a successful workplace, not to mention life in general.   Getting along is largely dependent on your communication skills.  If doing your job is important, you need to let people know what you’re doing, and you need to understand what they want from you.

Curious though it may seem, good communication starts with listening, not talking.  Expressing yourself is vital, but understanding what others are telling you allows you to make your arguments more persuasive.

If you want your views to be respected, you must show equal respect when others express their opinions.  Show that you understand their words and ideas, even if you disagree with them.  A little empathy goes a long way.

Not only is brevity the soul of wit, it is also a demonstration of respect for others’ time.  Going on and on, even when you’re right, turns people off.  Learn to make your points clearly and concisely, then let others respond.  No one likes to be lectured to.

Watch your tone.  So much of two-way communication depends on both sides feeling like they are not in hostile territory.  Even when two parties disagree, getting rude and personal is never acceptable.  Never.  Ever.

Body language often speaks louder than words.Nonverbal communication sends a powerful message.  Be aware of your hand gestures, eye contact, stance and tone of voice so you don’t undercut what you’re trying to say.  And pay attention to the other party’s cues.  Adjust your approach if necessary.

With so much of our communication written rather than spoken in person, don’t ignore the impact of texts, tweets, emails, posts and letters.  You would think that because you actually have to take the time to type and transmit, it would be easier to choose your words more carefully.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Messages committed to print are eternal, it seems, so it pays to read and reread what you are expressing before you hit the send button.  How many times have people had to take down a post because it didn’t say what they meant?  Can you or your business afford a misunderstanding?

“Words have meaning beyond the obvious.  Words have consequences beyond intention,” said John R. Dallas Jr., author of “We Need to Have a Word:  Words of Wisdom, Courage and Patience for Work, Home and Everywhere.”

Let that sink in for a minute.  A simple combination of letters can change the course of progress.  A poorly chosen phrase can end a working relationship – even if you didn’t mean quite what you said. 

In other words, think before you speak.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius was once asked his views on the importance of good communications in getting things done.  “What,” asked the questioner, “is the first thing to be done if good work is to be accomplished?”

Confucius replied, “Getting the definitions right, using the right words.”  He elaborated that “when words are improperly applied, issues are misunderstood.  When issues are misunderstood, the wrong plans are devised.  When the wrong plans are devised, wrong commands are given.  When wrong commands are given, the wrong work is performed.  When the wrong work is performed, organizations fail.  When organizations fail, the people suffer.”

And so he concluded, “the first thing is to achieve the proper naming of things.”

Two men went into a diner and sat down at the counter.  They ordered two sodas, took sandwiches out of their packs and started to eat them.  The owner saw what was going on and approached the men.

“You can’t eat your own sandwiches in here,” he complained.

So the two men stopped, looked at each other and then swapped their sandwiches.

Mackay’s Moral:  It is wiser to choose what you say than to say what you choose.

About the Author Harvey Mackay, Founder & CEO

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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