Miscommunication happens – between two people, within a small group and certainly within a large organization.
As a leader, there is more than one way to handle information that was either misunderstood or relayed incorrectly. It can be made worse by reacting in a negative way, calling out the person who shared the misinformation. Instead, it can and should be handled thoughtfully and calmly in a way that brings the truth to light without making the other person feel chastised.
I’d like to share one such instance that happened during the beginning stages of COVID-19. I had been putting out formal video communications to help people deal with and manage their own anxiety in relation to the pandemic. I would first visit with my executive team to outline the key points to share. Then, I would turn that dialogue into a video recording that would be made available to all staff, attached to a short email providing a brief synopsis.
When the summary email was sent, the key message was: CEO Mike Easley strongly suggests wearing masks. I was taken aback, as I knew that was not my suggestion, it was not the determined message with the executive team, nor was it relayed by me in the video.
Often, when something like this happens, our first instinct is to pick up the phone or send an email in frustration, demanding an explanation from the person who misunderstood the information. But that isn’t what I did. Instead, I got the VP of that division on the phone and said, “Hey, did you see the email that came out summarizing the meeting about the use of masks?” They replied that they had. I then asked if they would take a look at the video and compare my message to confirm the accuracy of the info shared. As expected, I was told that it was not accurate and a correction would be sent out.
We all know the tendency to breeze over information quickly and, by doing that, the message often becomes what we want to hear, or the details don’t quite sink in, or people just simply miss them.
In any case, within the next video update, I addressed the mask protocol again saying how I didn’t think I did the best job clarifying the procedure in the earlier video. I then proceeded to reiterate the same thing I shared two weeks earlier, but in a more approachable and clear way, as if it was the first time I was providing the information.
The takeaway from this story – Rather than throwing stones at someone or laying blame, correcting the miscommunication or misinformation gently is the better outcome for everyone.