How to Clarify Misunderstandings

Are you sometimes surprised by reactions of a team member? Of course, we are. Why? Because we perceive things differently. For example,

Team leader:  (routine reminder) “Can you get me a status report on your project by 12:00 noon on Tuesday?”

Team member:  (frowning) “As I have said, the project is on schedule! I don’t know what you are worried about.”

The leader made a routine reminder without underlying motives. The team member interpreted the reminder to be lack of confidence in meeting the deadline. That is, each party perceived the request differently. When in doubt about another’s perception, consider reporting what you perceived, giving two interpretations, and asking for clarification. For example:

Reporting:  “I understand you are on schedule. Your comment suggests that my question upset you.”

Interpretations:  Did I misunderstand or did it appear that I was doubting your ability?

Clarification:  Can you help me understand?

When another perceives our actions differently than what we intended, the most common reaction is to further explain what we meant. The implication is, although not necessarily intended, the other party misunderstood.

A better approach is to ask the other party to clarify what was received and try to understand.

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