Toothpaste Out of the Tube
Ever said something you regret? I was recently talking with a friend who was lamenting about sending an email that she wished she had never sent. It made me think of the analogy of words and toothpaste. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s virtually impossible to put it back in. Once our words leave our mouth (or are sent in an email), it is virtually impossible to take them back. It’s a great visual!
The problem is that sometimes it’s hard to know when our words have gone astray. I once served on a committee that completed the majority of its work via email. After working together for several years, we added a new member. After the first set of emails the new member received, she called me quite concerned. She told me that she felt our communication was very critical and didn’t take everyone’s opinions into consideration. I was caught off-guard because this committee had such a strong history working together. Looking at the emails with a fresh perspective, I realized the committee had gotten in the habit of short sentences or phases. Because of their history with each other, a great deal could be communicated with just a few words. To the new committee member, the communication felt critical. Further, the committee had a habit of deferring to different members based on their expertise and prior knowledge which could have made it feel like they weren’t all expressing their opinions. After talking through the emails with the new committee member, she agreed to give the committee a bit more time. Several weeks later, she emailed me, “Great committee, gets so much done and has fun at the same time! LOVE IT!” The context of the “normal” communication for our committee was difficult to grasp by the new committee member.
I facilitate a temperament assessment for teams called Real Colors. It helps team members how they are naturally wired to respond to situations and people. We often complete a communication preferences activity in which member explore how they like to be communicated with and how they like to communicate with others. It is often an eye opening experience for them because they realize everyone does not communicate in the same way which can lead to miscommunication.
Have you thought about how you communicate to others? What is the first thing you do when someone comes in the room? Do you ask them how their day is going or do you launch right into business? When there is an important issue to be discussed, do you prefer email or a phone call? When asked for your opinion, can you answer immediately or do you need time to think about it? As leaders, it is important to know your communication style as well as the communication style of those you are leading. It will help you keep more toothpaste in the tube!