Maybe you’ve experienced this scenario: You walk out of a meeting feeling confident that everyone involved has a clear, mutual understanding of what was communicated in the meeting. But later you find out that the understanding is actually about as clear as mud.

Recently, I came away from a business meeting certain that I understood a few key matters. For one thing: I understood how the work was being divvied up. For another, I understood the arrangement for financial compensation.

I was excited about the project and began to lay the groundwork. My preparatory effort then led to a second meeting. That’s when I discovered that “the goalposts had changed.” Not only was the focus of the work different from what had been originally agreed upon, but the compensation was also restructured — and not for the better. Needless to say, I was unhappy on both counts, and irked by the speed at which the parameters of the project had shifted.

After the second meeting I thought about what, if anything, could I have done differently, to avoid this unpleasant outcome. Ultimately, I concluded that there was no “silver bullet.” And there is always room for misunderstanding between people. Even so, there are some things that you can do to minimize confusion and to bring clarity to business transactions.

How to Avoid Communication Confusion

1. Be clear about your own goal and/or message going into a meeting. The more prepared you are, the more direct you will be. The more direct you are the less vague you will be. Vagueness leads to misunderstandings.

2. Listen; take your time; and take notes! Not listening and talking over another person leads to misunderstandings. Lack of a “record” leads to misunderstandings.

3. If you are uncertain about anything being said, ask questions. Make sure that you thoroughly understand what others are saying. Failure to thoroughly grasp another person’s viewpoint or expectations leads to misunderstandings.

4. Before the meeting concludes, recap the main points of the discussion. Ask if everyone involved agrees that your recap is accurate. Failure to recap leads to misunderstandings.

5. Follow up the meeting with an email that provides a written version of the recap, and ask for confirmation of receipt, as well as verification of the details contained in the email. Lack of follow up leads to misunderstandings.

As well as considering the above tips, you may also want to look at this article: “How to Say What You Really Mean in Conversations.” It has some insights that will also add to your ability to achieve clarity in business conversations.

When it comes right down to it, clarity between two or more people depends on human beings being at their most thoughtful, and at their most direct. That’s a tall order. But it’s well worth trying to achieve. After all, consider the alternative: a constant string of disappointments and misunderstandings!

Do you need help bringing clarity to your business meetings? Contact me at The Language Lab.