Communication is an essential part of our life: not only in the business but also in our personal life. We spend our day among people, and even if the Covid19 is limiting our social distance, we still need to interact with others, listen to them, exchange opinion, provide useful information, learn, teach… We are social beings.

The quality of communication will have a strong impact on the result of the interaction. I cannot emphasise more that in a new “normality”, where we need to work virtually with people, what we say is crucial. Day by day we attend virtual meetings, calls, webinars, one to one discussions… and we are missing the metacommunicative part of it.

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I am sure I am not alone (especially for people like me, non-native English speakers) to have experienced cases when we do not understand what other people are saying, for instance, during a call. This is even more common when 3 or more people are attending. Imagine the typical situation: we are listening, we are concentrating, and for whatever reason, we are missing the point. Maybe because of language barriers, maybe because the line is not fully clear, or maybe because the speaker is not expressing clearly his concept. Whatever is the reason, the result is the same: we do not understand.

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The first reaction is the “self-reassurance”: there are other people in the call, also my boss or my colleague is there, for sure he/she will understand, and I can clarify later. Fine. I am safe. The problem is when there is a big chance that some actions will be expected from us: but we are still missing the first part of the conversation… And then the worst, a question comes to us… The second reaction: let’s gain some time. We reply to the question with a question: “What do you mean?” And I am sure there are other and other tactics. In the worst of the cases, a new meeting will be set up because somebody has not understood something in the first meeting. It is like a chain reaction, and it is totally inefficient. And why? Because we have not said from the beginning “Sorry, I do not understand!”

Of course, I am not referring to cases when we have a strong language gap, because that is more difficult to be fixed. However, I have been very often in situations when I was not alone in the meeting, I had no clue about what we are talking about and then it turned out that the others had my same problem… but nobody admitted it!

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To mention positive cases, I was feeling so relieved when during the meeting, a person more experienced than me (for instance, my boss) stopped the conversation and simply said: “Sorry, but I do not understand.” That is great.

I always admired people who had no fear or shame to show in front of others that “they have limits, and they need some support”. Clarifications like this can really help to improve the quality of communication. I really believe that an initial explanation will remove a lot of pain for the future part of the conversation. So do not feel worried, and have the courage to say “I do not understand!”

If you liked this article, please share with me situations that you experienced, when an initial clarification changed completely the outcome of the conversation, or when this has been missed and the meeting went in a totally wrong direction.