The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

Effective Communication

April 16, 2012

By Justin Borchardt, Future Leader

“Excuse me, waiter? I ordered this burger with onions.” The waiter apologized, “I’m sorry sir. I thought you wanted no tomatoes and no onions. I will bring some onions out shortly.” Thinking back, I remembered specifically ordering my burger, “I’ll have the hamburger, all the way except no tomatoes and um, onions.” Where was the problem? Apparently, I just assumed this burger joint did not include onions in their definition of ‘all the way’ and wanted to add them (as an afterthought). So, the waiter thought I was saying “no onions”, when I meant to communicate was “add onions.” Do you see it?

Almost daily we come across a situation of misunderstanding that could have been avoided with better communication. As long as there is human interaction, misunderstandings will arise; however, these situations can be minimized with constant improvement of our communication skills. Communication requires both clear expression as well as active listening in order to achieve mutual understanding. Below are a few tips to keep in mind that can help us avoid situations like mine at the burger joint:

Clear Expression – “”If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.” Gerald R. Ford

  • Be Specific – Do not allow your audience to guess at your meaning.
  • Think Before You Speak – If you cannot determine what point you are making, how can you expect your audience to understand your point?
  • Be Empathetic – Never underestimate how your word choice, tone of voice, or body language can affect the way a message is understood by your audience.
  • Ask for Validation – Have your audience repeat your message in their own words instead of asking if they understand.

Active Listening – “It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” Yogi Berra

  • Stay Focused – Show respect to the speaker by paying attention and having a genuine desire to listen to the message.
  • Do Not Interrupt – Your opinion may change or your question may be answered once you have heard the whole message.
  • Clarify the Message – Ask questions about points you feel aren’t clear and repeat in your own words what was stated by the speaker.

While these few tips are not all encompassing, I have found that they do minimize misunderstandings and conflicts. As many of us also communicate frequently by email, these tips can be applied to written communication as well.