Communication: dispel misunderstanding

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A common saying in politics when a public figure is embroiled in a personal crisis: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.”

A similar saying regarding high-trust leadership might be, “When trust is broken, it may be a misunderstanding.”

When deep trust is lacking, it is not uncommon to rush to judgement and not take time to confirm what the person really meant and what really happened.

It is much easier to jump to conclusions, assume the worst, and spread unhappiness at the water cooler.

Unfortunately, with 21st century social media, smartphones, e-mail, and texts, the water cooler is now global in size with near-instantaneous gossip spread to large numbers of people.

Asynchronous communication using hastily written texts, emails, and tweets can be radioactive with a half-life lasting centuries.

Like a credible journalist, better to confirm your source and take steps to avoid misunderstanding before making a judgement and breaking trust.

Seth Godin addresses this in a blogpost:

  • Is it possible there was a misunderstanding?
  • Is it possible that you misunderstood them, or they misunderstood you?
  • With your client, employee, vendor, partner, or that random passerby?
  • The thing that just happened, it sounds terrible, and if they did it on purpose, the way it sure seems to you and to me, that would be horrible.
  • But before we burn down bridges and ruin everyone’s day, just a quick moment to wonder, “what if there was something misunderstood?”
  • It’s a lot easier to ask than it is to go to all the trouble of breaking things.

Be a High-Trust Leader: take steps to promote understanding and dispel misunderstanding.

  • Give others the benefit of doubt and take a moment to confirm what you think you know.
  • If your worst suspicions turn out to be true, there will be time later to take remedial action.
  • But if your initial impression was wrong and you announced your anger, fear, disappointment to one and all, it will take lots of time and energy to put the genie back in the bottle. You may not be able to un-ring the bell.
  • An ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure.

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