With only verbal communication, your employees may never understand how you want things done.

Ever notice when you give verbal instructions to your staff they may go and do something entirely different?

It’s usually the fault of bad verbal communications. You know what you said, but did they really know what you meant? Face it. You’re a busy person, right? So if you talk to people, doesn’t it usually end with your saying, “Got that?”

What do they do? They nod their heads up and down like bobble head dolls. Think they really got it? No! If they had a big cartoon balloon over their heads, you’d see, “I don’t have a clue about what you’re saying, but you’ll never know.”

The only way to effectively know your employees really understood what you said is to have them either show you or tell you in a convincing way. They have to paraphrase what you’re saying so you have a hope that they really heard you and do understand.

But relying on verbal communication alone is no way to run your company. Remember the Telephone Game? The first person on the line says, “I want an apple,” but by the time the message reaches you, it’s become, “I ate an orange.” Hey, it’s still a fruit, right?

Important elements of any message can become diluted since we all listen to what someone else says with our own sets of filters. You and your techs are so busy each day, how can anyone remember who said what to one another? Everyone either repeats things over and over or ends up skipping over important to-do items.

Have you been to a good restaurant lately? You know, a really nice one where the waiter says to you, “Let me tell you about the specials of the day.” After he’s gone on for about 15 minutes going through all the specials, is there any way you’re going to remember what he said at the beginning? What are you really dying for? A menu!

Just one of the dangers of relying on verbal communication alone is that it turns into a game of “I was never told” vs. “Yes, you were.” This is always a lose-lose situation.

The danger in communicating verbally is that your employees may never understand exactly how to do things the way you want them done.

And what happens when there is more than one boss delivering more than one set of instructions? When I ran the installation crew at my shop, I would give a complete set of instructions to the guys, and I’d make sure they verified what I expected of them. Even with that extra care, don’t you know they’d walk outside and my dad would give them a whole new set of verbal instructions! Isn’t that a recipe for making people ineffective at their jobs?

Finally, my dad and I realized that this had to stop. So we agreed that he’d have to talk to me first if he had any last-minute instructions for the guys, and I’d pass it along or at least verify we’re in synch.

Another lucky thing that happened to me was when I listened to Dan Holohan’s sage advice years ago and attended a 12-week Dale Carnegie training course. It made a dramatic improvement in my communication skills. One of the best exercises we did highlighted the danger in bad communication. It involved the use of one sentence with just seven words. They had us say the sentence, “I didn’t say he beat his wife” seven different ways.

Each time we had to place the accent on a different word. Each version took on a completely different meaning to the listener, based on who delivered it and which word they chose to accentuate. Here are just two examples:

  • “I didn’t say he beat his wife.”
  • “I didn’t say he beat his wife.”

    What bad verbal communication creates is at best an uninspired staff and at worst tremendous employee turnover and a ton of mistakes. You’ll end up taking tasks and responsibilities back from your staff, because they don’t do it the way you want it done. And what are you going to do about it? Fire them? Heck no, because then you would have to do it all yourself.

    In my workshops, I like to ask people how they got to the workshop. Many people take a plane. I say, “By the way, I happened to speak to your pilot, and he told me, ‘You know what? I’ve been flying this plane for 30 years. Checklists? I don’t need no stinking checklists! I know this stuff by heart.’”

    If you knew that ahead of time, how comfortable would you be about boarding that plane? You don’t want someone working without a detailed plan of action, a checklist, no matter how long they’ve been at it. Even if you could remember everything you said, can you hold anyone accountable to what you think you said? The answer is no.

    In other words, my motto is, “If It Isn’t Written, It Isn’t Real.” The fights over arbitrary things need to end now. And this is how you do it:

  • Invest in good communications training and practice.
  • End the reliance on verbal communication alone.
  • Meet to hold open and honest discussions on what is the best way to do things.
  • Add to this communications power by also putting things in writing. Start with that pilot-type checklist approach for the most common tasks you do at your company.

    Think about the consequences of the words you choose and how you say them before they leave your lips. Then, you can say what you mean, and mean what you say, but always have them backed up by written instructions.