What did you say?

Linda Zamora recalls the loyal employee who’d been with the company since its founding.

Through years of substantial growth, the staff expanded and the family atmosphere faded. One day, the employee’s new supervisor abruptly informed her that another staff member was taking over some of the duties she’d always performed. This left the long-time worker feeling belittled and unappreciated by the organization she’d served for years.

“In reality, now that there was adequate support staff, the owners considered this employee’s role of such importance that she should be freed of trivial details unrelated to her position, which would enable her to focus on the most important aspects of her job,” says Zamora, an organizational conflict management consultant based in Akron.

“Unfortunately, the new, younger supervisor’s management style was so blunt that he failed to communicate the owners’ intended message.”

In working with corporate entities, academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit organizations to help people work together more effectively and productively, Zamora frequently sees scenarios that cause major misunderstandings and conflict.

The majority of communications conflicts, she says, result from failing to see things from another’s perspective; reacting before knowing all the facts; reading into someone’s words and actions; and speaking without considering how your statements may be interpreted.

“In essence, it all comes down to, “What did you say? That’s not what I heard!'” she says.

To help professionals develop better skills to avoid miscommunications, Zamora shares these tips.

1. As a speaker, put yourself in the position of the listener.

“Keep in mind that an individual’s culture, life and work experiences, values, expectations and thought processes sometimes block their ability to perceive your intended meaning,” Zamora says.

To be sure your listeners correctly interpreted your message, tell them it’s important to you that they understand your meaning and ask them to rephrase their understanding of what you said.

2. Use your voice as an important ally in communication.

Monitor your voice pitch and inflection, control your rate of speech and consider the impression your tone of voice makes on your listener. Do you sound interested? Bored? Helpful? Or hostile?

3. Watch yourself. Body language carries 55 percent of the information in a normal conversation.

Finger-pointing, fist-pounding, rolling your eyes, scowling, pacing, fiddling, folding your arms — these are all communications destroyers. Train yourself to use open body language, such as open palms and good posture.

“Whatever your words say, your nonwords will resoundingly affirm or contradict,” Zamora says.

4. Consider your physical position.

Proxemics — spatial separation — also figures into communication scenarios. Depending on how you want your message to be perceived, decide whether you should deliver it from behind your desk or while sitting in a chair at an angle to your listener.

5. Be a better listener.

“Most people believe that they communicate by talking. While speaking is a part of communication, listening is most important,” Zamora says.

To be a better listener, focus all your attention on the speaker, maintain steady eye contact without staring, don’t interrupt, focus on the speaker’s concepts and central ideas and eliminate your biases. To clarify the intended meaning, concisely restate your understanding of the listener’s message.

6. Use sincere, not sarcastic, humor as an icebreaker.

Zamora says self-deprecating humor puts you at a level closer to your listener.

“You aren’t out to get a Seinfeld reaction, you just want to put you and your listener on the same playing field for fruitful discussion,” she says. How to reach: Linda Zamora, Organizational Conflict Management, (330) 666-5232; [email protected]

Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.