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Miscommunication is not because of language skills

Most of you have experience with miscommunications in business meetings. Especially if you are using English in business meetings, most likely you will find at least some difficulty in getting the agreement or achieving your objective in a short amount of time compared to when you are using your mother language.

When you feel uncomfortable when the audience did not understand the discussion of the meeting or a presentation which is in English, what do you feel? You may feel that you need to improve your language skills. Is this true? For certain cases yes, but most likely no.

Trap that people falls in communication

What do you do when you have miscommunication while you are presenting to someone. The more skilled you are in communication, I think you will sense from the body language of the audience that they may not understand. In these situations, you are right; they don’t get it.

I had one experience when I was in one business meeting using English making a presentation to 5 clients about CRM strategy. I felt that they may not understand what I am explaining as they are all staring at the slide with a question mark in their faces. Can you guess what I did? I started to repeat what I said because I though they did not catch the words that I used. I then realised that I kept on repeating the same thing over and over again because I did not get a good reaction from any of the audience. They all did understand the meaning of the words I used, it was more of the background, and I did give examples or details on the topic enough.

3 Reasons of Miscommunication in Business Meetings

1. Different Image of Generic Business Keywords

We frequently use business keywords, which we all think everyone in the meeting will have a common understanding of what it means. For example, sales increase, market share, CRM, supply chain management, business opportunity, budget, expense, cost, stock, logistics, scope of work, infrastructure, etc. These generic keywords can mean multiple things to the people who are in the meeting room.

For example, “Cost” can mean, product cost, purchase cost, the cost of general supplies, and someone else can use “Expense” to describe general supplies, travel costs, transportation cost, or it can mean costs allocated to expense in financial accounting. “Logistics” can mean goods movement in a warehouse, vehicles for transportation or entire goods movement is a single entity. “Scope of Work” can mean a contract document, or simply a list of tasks to be done in a small project.

People form an image in their mind when they listen to your presentation. This is based on knowledge or experience. When there is a feeling of a gap from their image and what you hear from you, they will try to make a comparison and understand which part is different. At the same time, you are explaining further into details. When they have a lot of gaps from the image they have, their mind cannot process to fulfil the gap. This is where their physiology changes. Which means, they may have changes in their eyes, facial expressions or they may only ask questions.

Using generic keywords without precise explanation can sometimes be misleading. In most cases, the audience who are listening will not ask questions to confirm what you mean by these generic keywords unless you give them specific image before you move on to the detail points of the discussion.

2. Different ways to express agreement and disagreement

As we learned that 65% of the English speakers are non-native English speakers, you might have some situations that culture and common sense can be different among nationalities and beliefs. These are not right or wrong. The fact is there is a difference, and you will first need to understand that people may have different ways of using English, especially when it comes to agreement or disagreement.

Non-native English speakers will refer to their mother language when they express their opinions or emotions. I’m sure you have heard of Western being direct, Japanese always saying yes and in our business conversations can be much more complicated.

People can ask a different type of questions because they don’t want to say no to you. Some can tell you that “I am not sure”, it can mean “I don’t agree”, “I am really not sure”, or “I am sure but need to confirm and may take about two weeks to respond to you”. “I will do it by tomorrow” can mean “I will try my best to do it by tomorrow”. You may not know what to do when you are comfortable getting opinion, disagreements and feedback but no one says anything after you expressed your opinion. Silence can mean agreement or disagreement. This depends on culture and how people have experienced non-verbal communication.

When you get some feedback, or you are not sure about what they mean, the only thing you can do is to ask questions. You need to ask open questions so that they will talk in their words how they are feeling about the situation. Then you can ask further questions depending on the phrase, (not how you think) they use. Remember that in this situation do not assume, predict or mind read people. Just focus on the words and physiology, and you will understand what the person wants to communicate to you.

3.Gap in Visual and Verbal Communication

When we make a presentation, we often use presentation slides to support what we want to communicate to the audience. Using visual and verbal communication will have a positive effect on understanding the presentation. At the same time, it can confuse if your visual and verbal explanation is not aligned.

I think most of you also experienced the situation that when some of the words that are in the PowerPoint slides and what the speaker is saying is different, you get confused. In your mind, you start to think which is correct, or you try to adjust your image with the visual or auditory information. Then it becomes a “3-way matching process” (Your image-Visual Information-Auditory Information) When people are confused, they will lose the information they have received because your mind is doing this “3-way matching process”. In the end, if you miss the signal of miscommunication, then you will get a totally different type of questions from the audience. Make sure the words, sentences, visual image are aligned with the verbal communication so that you don’t make the audience fall in the “3-way matching process”.

6 Simple Ways to Avoid Miscommunication

Here are 6 tips you can learn to avoid miscommunication.

1.Acknowledge miscommunication will occur

What you can do to avoid miscommunication is first to understand that we miscommunicate. Then you will always be aware that no matter how good your presentation is there will be miscommunication because you cannot align the level of understanding if you are presenting in front of more than one person.

2. Explain Generic Business Keywords

When you need to use keywords, give detail explanation or examples in the beginning. Don’t feel overwhelmed that you are going to repeat something most people may already know. Taking your first couple of minutes to align people’s expectation is much more valuable than taking hours of meeting without any alignment or conclusion (which happens very often!).

3. Summarise the Topic in the beginning

When you are making a proposal of a product or service for your client, we use executive summary to explain the whole picture of the proposal. This aligns the image of what we are going to discuss in the meeting. Make sure you do this in every business meetings. Agenda or explaining as the objective of this meeting can help you to summarise meeting topic.

4. Speak Slowly

We always know we have to speak slowly, but somehow when you focus on what to speak rather than how to speak, people speak fast. You will need to practice speaking slowly. It’s not as easy as you think.
If you have written what you are going to speak, you can visit Word Counter to know how many words are in your speech and also gives you the time required to speak. Usually, native speakers will speak from 150 to 180 words per minute. I recommend you to practice 110 to 120 words per minute. Then you will speak around 120 to 130 word per minute, which will make the audience feel that you are speaking slowly and clearly enough for all level of English speakers.

5. Align visual and verbal explanation

As we learned about the reasons of miscommunication, you should make sure your visual contents and your verbal communication are aligned. When you find some mistakes in a visual slide, or you want to talk about something not related to the slide, make sure to tell the audience that you are going to explain something besides what you are showing. This switches people’s attention from visual to auditory. You should also practice and go through your presentation files before so that you can simulate what you will explain and during the presentation, and you can focus on how you will explain.

6. Ask open questions to confirm understanding

We always ask questions, such as “Are there any questions?”. This is also a good way to confirm whether the audience has understood your presentation. Here we want to think a bit further as this is a business meeting. “ Do you have other priorities about the product or service?”. If you are asked this question after the presentation, you also want to describe your priority and which point you have liked. You can ask further if the person who is answering did not make any comment about the point you made in your presentation. This drives more precisely what you want as a feedback. In this case, you wanted to focus on the priority, which is how the customer will value most out of the product or service you are providing. Compelling questions lead valuable answers.


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