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If you were to ask me what I thought the one required tool for leadership would be, I would have to say that it is the art of communication. I believe communication is essential in almost every relationship whether we are speaking of leadership, friendship or even marriage. The value and art of proper communication can never be overstated.

Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to visit another country where English, my preferred method of communication, was not the norm. It was during this time that I recognized how important common language is whatever you’re trying to communicate. Being in a strange land and having the need to speak to someone when you don’t know the proper words to say can become very frustrating. The idea of trying to communicate with someone that just doesn’t understand the words coming out of your mouth can cause many emotions such as anger, frustration and even embarrassment. (Be sure to check out the blog from March 6th.)

But me making a statement about needing to speak the same language is redundant and should go without saying. There is, however, another problem with communication that is not as obvious.

Recently I had the opportunity to ask a question to a couple of friends when they were not in the same room. The question dealt with their relationship and their answers to the question were on both ends of the spectrum. The question was very simple, “have you ever argued about a specific subject”. One person’s answer “yes”, and the other person’s answer “never.” This seemed interesting that two people, speaking the same language, talking about the same thing and answering the same question could have totally different answers. So I decided to press the little deeper and find out what the problem was.

I invited my two friends for coffee where we could talk together, and then ask them if they remembered the question. I then asked if they would both answer at the same time out loud. When I asked the question again, “have you ever argued about this subject? It was right there at that moment when an amusing thing happened, one of them said “yes”, and the other said “never” out loud and then they looked at each other in total amazement.

One of them ask the other how can you say we’ve never argued about that? The other one said we’ve never argued about that! It seemed that we had a problem, both were speaking the same language, but they were not saying the same thing. One of them elaborated on the fact that they had discussed the matter but never argued about it the other one then stated they were not discussions, they were arguments.

What was taking place is something that I’ve witnessed many times. It takes place even when a young boy tells a young girl “I love you.” The girl here’s one thing however the boy is saying something entirely different. This communication problem continues all the way through life, log after our teenage infatuation years. Our personal dictionary for common words is built upon our experiences, our culture and our preferences. We then use our definitions to communicate to someone else who has entirely different meanings for the same words. Where I think something might be terrible, your definition of terrible might be nowhere near mine. It would be like me referring to the “green” car and you stating that there was not “green” car around, only a “teal” one.

What was taking place with my friends right there over a cup of coffee was something very common yet also something that causes stress in a team or a relationship. They were using the same vocabulary but a different dictionary. Many times in leadership we describe our goals and our vision for the team using our vocabulary in our dictionary when the team might be hearing something entirely different based on the understanding of the words.

I know this seems like a tedious task, but we as leaders need to find a way to make sure we are communicating clearly with our team, and also in our everyday relationships. We need to find a way to make sure that what we’re saying is what they’re hearing. Not just that they’re hearing the same words but that the understanding of the words we are using translates into the same meaning that they are hearing.

This week’s experiment, take some time with your team (or other relationships) and find out if there is any confusion or misunderstandings in your communication. After all, you might think you are having a discussion when the other person thinks you are having an argument.