Communication is the cornerstone of team effectiveness. There is one type of communication block that is highly destructive but rarely discussed. It’s jumping to conclusions. This happens in many settings.
Often in team meetings, we practice selective hearing. Sometimes team members are so focused on formulating how to express their own point of view that they don’t really hear what a co-worker is saying. Comments are abruptly cut off and, before a viewpoint has been fully articulated, an inaccurate conclusion is drawn and a counter-argument expressed. It’s not unusual for team members to be in violent agreement and not aware of it until a facilitator or other 3rd party points out the dynamics that are at play.
Jumping to conclusions can de-rail communication even more quickly in writing or on-line. During a busy workday, it’s easy to be a selective reader. E-mails are skimmed with a focus on the subject, first couple of sentences and closing sentence. Sometimes the bulk of the message is missed and the reader fires back a missive that leads to conflict. Without the benefit of non-verbal communication or tone of voice, a simple misunderstanding can lead to a full conflict that is difficult to resolve. This often fuels major conflicts between members of cross-functional teams who are working out of different locations.
I manage a number of on-line communities including a very large one with over 150,000 members. It’s amazing how quickly a flame war can break out. All it takes is a provocative headline or a thought provoking rhetorical question and an individual can be under attack. It takes impartial and effective moderation to diffuse a flame war once it has started. A lot of these conflicts arise because individuals zone in on a word or a phrase and jump to conclusions without giving the other party a chance to fully express their views. Positions become easily entrenched. Accusations get hurled back and forth. It is hard for individuals to move beyond their original conclusions and assumptions. It’s a microcosm of what happens in teams and organizations.
There is an alternative. Instead of jumping to conclusions, accusing the other party of expressing a negative point of view and escalating situation into the realm of conflict, slow down the process. Take time to ask clarifying questions. Paraphrase and confirm understanding before responding. If you’ve been communicating with a co-worker or colleague via e-mail or on-line and communication is becoming convoluted pick up the phone or take the initiative to move to face-to-face communication.
Jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst about people undermines team cohesion. Slowing down and taking the time to truly hear what others are saying significantly improves communication and boosts team harmony. Misunderstandings and conflicts within teams could be greatly reduced with these basic but often overlooked steps.
Photo Credits: xoder