Image Source: PixabayThere’s the message we intend, and the message others think they hear. Similar, maybe, but not same. Or worse, yet, completely different.

Let’s use the image above (courtesy of Pixabay) as our metaphor for how your last important message about a RED APPLE might have been received:

  • Several people heard it as a GREEN apple – close.
  • Some heard it as either an ORANGE or a LEMON – they got the ‘fruit’ part right, anyway.
  • And you-know-who, heard it as a little YELLOW RUBBER DUCKIE – in fairness, it IS ‘yellow’, like a lemon, which IS a fruit…just like your red apple.

To say this never happens – as absurd as it may seem – is absurd. To a greater or lesser extent, it almost ALWAYS happens!

The Multiplier Effect

But it gets worse.

Imagine now, if you will, that each of your direct reports goes and shares what they thought your message was with each of their direct reports. Now count your green apples, oranges, lemons, rubber duckies, and whatever else got added to the mix.

See how quickly the confusion would spread? See how diluted your message – and reputation as a good communicator – becomes? (And we’re not even talking about the impact on employee morale, productivity, or the missteps and extra work that would likely result from staff just doing what they thought you wanted.)

So if this actually happened – which it actually does far more than you likely realize – now imagine the follow-up meetings and additional directives to clarify and reiterate what you did and did not say – and what you did and did not mean, right?! Oh, and there’s all the clean-up that’d be needed from all those missteps, too, don’t forget.

Know the Goal

The leadership lesson here – and your leadership ‘move’ – is to insure that the messages you INTEND to be received are precisely the messages that actually ARE received.

  1. That whenever YOU have a message to communicate – especially when you’re relying on others to communicate that message for you – be absolutely sure that you have communicated it as clearly and accurately as possible.
  2. That however THEY intend to share your message with others, they are able to do so in such a way that those others are able to hear your message precisely as you intended them to, as well.

The ‘How To’ Part

How best to do that?

I think you’ll find the most effective way is surprisingly easy. Simply add the following postscript to anything you have to say:

“Please repeat back what you just heard me say – I want to see if I recognize it.”

You, then, can simply judge for yourself the extent to which you need to restate, rephrase, clarify, or confirm.



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