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Communication is measured at the listener’s ear, not the speaker’s mouth

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Taking total responsibility means measuring communication at the listener’s ear, not the speaker’s mouth.

This is what former Google executive Kim Scott talks about in her book Radical Candor.

If we seek to take total responsibility, we must accept that – if someone doesn’t understand something – it’s because we haven’t communicated it with clarity and repetition.

Sometimes it’s true that people wilfully misunderstand things. Or that it’s truly beyond their capacity. But it’s rare.

Most of the time it’s because we’re not as clear as we think we are.

Perhaps we haven’t tailored the message to the audience. Or maybe we haven’t understood the underlying concept well enough to articulate it plainly.

Often, it’s simply because we haven’t repeated the message. We just say something once. Then we’re surprised when people don’t understand or remember it later on.

In his book, The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni says that leaders must overcommunicate key messages.

But we often shy away from doing so. Not because we’re lazy, but because we don’t want to be patronising.

Instead, messages must be repeated several times – and ideally through different channels (e.g. e-mail, one on one meetings, group meetings etc.) – before people internalise it.

So, next time someone doesn’t understand something, resist the urge to get frustrated or blame them.

Then take the opportunity to repeat the message. Ideally in a different way to the first time.

Because, when they don’t understand, it’s usually because we haven’t done a good job of explaining it.

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