The absence of effective communication is at the heart of every misunderstanding between people, and clients are no exception. Clients are particular about what they want and how they want it done. Sometimes they don’t provide you with all the information you need to help them, although they aren’t aware they’ve left anything out.
Most often, however, misunderstandings arise when assumptions are made about what’s been communicated. Words and phrases can be ambiguous, and sometimes it doesn’t occur to the client to ask for clarification because they think they know what you mean.
It’s easy for a minor miscommunication to snowball into something more. For instance, you could be halfway done with a project and not know the client had something else in mind. You repeated the same words but they meant something different to the client.
While there’s no way to avoid miscommunication completely, there are effective ways to handle misunderstandings to move toward resolution. Here are three of those ways:1. Become a better listener
Communication is usually thought of as the act of conveying a message to another person. I have something to say and I’m going to communicate it to you.
When you look at how communication actually takes place, you’ll see something entirely different. Communication lives in the listening
of the person receiving it, not in the delivery of the message. Evidence of communication exists only in its reception
You can only confirm communication has taken place when the recipient of the message comprehends the message. It’s easy to receive simple messages, like when to meet someone for dinner, but once the subject matter begins triggering emotional reactions and gets personal, the ability to communicate becomes complex.
The same message could be delivered exactly the same to one hundred people and each person will have a different understanding. A person’s understanding will be filtered by their perceptions of what they think is being said, based on their emotional triggers.
If you’ve ever been in a heated argument with someone who doesn’t get your message, no matter how many different ways you rephrase it, you know the futility of improving communication by explaining something differently. The only way to turn it around is to stop trying to convey a message and start listening to what the other person is hearing you say.Communication is a live fine-tuning of ideas
Communication occurs like a relay; bits of message are delivered back and forth and clarification is (hopefully) provided along the way to keep the conversation on course. The problem is that during the course of conversation, aspects are misunderstood and new ideas are overlaid onto misunderstood ideas, and it’s not always obvious right away.
If you want to better handle misunderstandings with clients, the first place to start is by becoming a better listener. Make the effort to understand what they’re upset about as completely as possible before even attempting to fix the situation.2. Be understanding of what you don’t know
Everyone has dealt with at least one client who kept changing their mind or couldn’t make a decision easily. On the surface, it seems like these clients are just high maintenance. However, you never know when one of your clients is suffering from a minor brain injury that physically affects how they make decisions.
Every year, millions of people suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), the majority being concussions
. Someone with a TBI, depending on the severity, will have difficulty making decisions and sometimes can’t make a decision at all.
Be understanding in that you may not know what’s going on with them. Have compassion for the possibility that their frustrating behaviour may be beyond their control.3. Don’t step over the trashDon’t step over the trash
is a metaphor for not moving forward without addressing an incomplete situation first.
For instance, if they haven’t paid their last invoice and it’s overdue, address it and complete it before you move forward with the project. Even if they need more time to pay it, don’t leave it an unknown.
Another example is if a client doesn’t meet their deadline to provide you with documents, don’t ignore it. Address the issue immediately, handle it, and don’t let those incompletions pile up.