Communicating in a complete and direct way so that nothing is in the way, misunderstood, or unhandled. Getting the other person and being gotten.
On one busy day, I needed some hard copies of an important document to be signed by a director overseas and posted the back to our office. Time was critical, and any errors were utterly unacceptable.
I carefully checked every detail in the document. It was all well-formatted, flawless, and ready to go. So I attached the file to an email and sent it to the director to have her review and sign “3 English and Vietnamese copies”.
As a detail-oriented person, I suddenly felt something wrong. I remembered sitting there looking at the email, wondering, “Will the director get that I need her signature on 3 English copies and 3 Vietnamese copies, or it will be up to her interpretation?”. So I shared my concern with one of my team members who had much experience in working these documents. Fortunately, she agreed with me that I should make it more explicit to the director by emailing her again and stated precisely that, “I mean 3 English copies and 3 Vietnamese copies”. I went home and felt so relieved that I had picked up the potential pitfall in my communication and asked the right person for advice. It was always better to pay attention to our word choice, especially via email.
As expected, boom, the director confirmed, signed, and posted them back swiftly in a day. It was all done. Easy.
I was so thrilled to open the yellow package, pulling the stack of papers. As long as I saw the documents, I almost screamed to myself: “F… me.” I completely forgot that this file needed printing one-sided. It turned out that what I got was a stack of two-sided printed documents. I assumed that my communication was unmistakable, with no room for error. I was even proud of myself. Yet now I was standing here blown. The reality stunned me for a second. I could never rewind time or send the file back again. It was too late already to start all over. How should I explain my mistake?
I took a deep breath and put the documents on the table. “How did I forget?”. “Isn’t it reasonable that a signed document should be printed one-sided?”. Streams of thoughts were running in my head while I was flipping the pages like a robot. After a moment, when I sensed that I could finally be present with the reality, being cause in the matter, I asked myself, “What can I do now?”. I thought of my life-saver last time so I met her again and ‘admitted’ to her: “I believed my sentence was complete in the email, but I was wrong. I still missed the tiny little detail of the one-sided print”.
Kudos to her, she was really calm and cool in supporting me. “Oh, yes. We absolutely need to fix this. Sorry, I should have reminded you. I recall that this happened once before. Let me see how I handled it then.” Then thanks to her advice, I made some confirmation, and the document was good to go. I was lucky that I could still sort it out. Otherwise, it could have taken me another day or two to get this done.
With this incident, I have realized the strong correlation between how situations occur and language. You may think this is trivial, but believe me, I had seen many problems caused by miscommunications. Several times. In these modern days, everyone, including me, seems to communicate a lot. And sometimes we were not even aware of the “unsaid” in our communications. Unsaid assumptions, unsaid expectations, unsaid intention. Hence, I assert that when we slow down to think a bit more about how we can better ensure our words leave little to nothing for interpretation, it will make our lives much easier, not to mention printing documents.
In Mekong Capital, we call it “Communiplete” which is one of our core values: Communicating in a complete and direct way so that nothing is in the way, misunderstood, or unhandled. Getting the other person and being gotten.
By Pham Hong Son, Senior Associate, Mekong Capital | The opinions expressed here are his own. This article originally posted on Medium