At least once in each of our lives, we will find ourselves in a situation of total embarrassment — a situation where we understood or heard one thing, while the reality was something completely different. Our ability to listen and process information is key to navigating life’s twists and turns. For me, one of the most embarrassing moments of my career would prove to be an opening for my path in life.

Back in September of 2007, I found myself unemployed and struggling in many areas of my life. Thanks to a family member at the time, I had the opportunity to interview at a local HVAC company. While I didn’t have any direct experience with the field, I had worked for three years in a property management company in Maryland that exposed me to many different trades. The position was for an administrative assistant, and I knew that no matter what the field, I had plenty experience with computers and office processes and procedures.

The interview went well, I thought, and I walked away under the assumption that the job was mine — that I just needed to let the owner know my intentions. I let the family member, who was the current service manager, know of my intentions to start the Tuesday after the holiday and asked him to please notify the owner.

Now, we all know how well assumptions work. Needless to say, I was a little off the mark.

Tuesday morning, I walked in with my lunch and all of my office/computer stuff. I walked right to the only available desk, which I assumed was supposed to be mine, and started formatting the computer to my preferences and setting up my office materials. Then I left to go put my lunch in the fridge. Little did I know that while I was gone, the owner and the service manager began a game of “who hired Megan?” When they realized that neither of them had officially hired me, it became obvious that I had hired myself. Needless to say, no one in the history of the working world has ever had a more awkward first day then I did.

Thankfully, the owner was gracious enough to let me stay, under the understanding that if either he or I thought, at any time during the trial employment period of 90 days, that I wasn’t a good fit, we would part ways with no hard feelings. As of September 2019, that would be 12 years ago.

My experience may have been humorous, but not all situations of miscommunication end this well. As in all professions, clean and efficient communication and understanding are key to not only success but also survival. Proper training and preparation are paramount.

So, what are the answers to instilling proper communication? Research will show that there are many different ways to communicate with another individual. People make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year teaching seminars on how to be a better leader, a better communicator, or even a better listener. And while each of these instructors have their own “proven” methods, in the end, the steps to proper listening and communication are simple.

1. Find the right time – Understanding there is a time and place to handle certain conversations can greatly improve one’s ability to both concentrate and retain the information being shared.

2. Show respect – We have all been guilty of playing the telephone game, where a simple phrase becomes grossly confused and twisted because we don’t pay attention. Face-to-face communication, with eye contact, can greatly increase the level of respect between individuals and allows the person giving the instructions the opportunity to ensure that everyone is paying attention and receiving the same message. Face-to-face communication also avoids the temptation to multi-task while listening, which inevitably causes missed communication and mistakes and can be misconstrued as a lack of respect.

3. Teach by example – When communicating with another individual, it’s important to speak to that person in the same manner you wish to be spoken to. Screaming and hollering, no matter whether at a child or an adult, is a sure way to cause a break in the communication stream.

4. Listen and repeat – When instructing or teaching another individual, it’s important to not only speak clearly but to verify that the others involved understood what was being said. A simple request to have the information repeated back can avoid costly confusion.

5. Encourage taking notes – Communication is key, but remembering what was said is necessary to avoid simple mistakes. Which is why it’s important, whenever you are learning something new, to take notes so you can return to them to double-check your work and processes.

6. Be forward and clear with your message to avoid confusion – It’s easy to be become sidetracked when communicating with others around you. When instructing another individual, it is important to stay on track and make sure to avoid side comments or opinions until after the initial conversation is complete.

7. Listen as you speak – Any couples therapist will tell you that when you are speaking with your spouse, it is important to listen to what they are saying rather than mentally preparing your next point. This fact holds true in every aspect of life where communication is involved. In order to properly communicate, you must also be able to properly listen. An ability to clearly share information and instructions can help avoid simple mistakes and pitfalls in life.

8. Know your audience – Our methods of communication are almost as diverse as our different personality types. Generational differences, coupled with basic language barriers and the simple fact that some individuals are book learners while some are visual learners, mean that knowing your audience can make the difference between success and a case of missed communication.

9. Keep it positive – No one wants to listen to a Debbie Downer. While life can throw curve balls at any moment, it is helpful to keep a positive outlook, especially when speaking with others around you. All news, whether good or bad, is easier to swallow when combined with a little honey and a smile.

Proper communication is a challenge facing every person, business, and even industry. There are no boundaries and no exceptions. But the steps to overcoming the challenge are straightforward. Once they’re implemented properly, the level of communication should, over time, increase and improve.

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