Bridging the Intention-Interpretation Gap in Your Company

2015-08-27-1440705181-5928084-RandyRayess.pngRandy Rayess is the co-founder of VenturePact, a marketplace that connects companies to prescreened software development firms; he previously worked in private equity at SilverLake Partners and in machine learning. You can reach out to him at @randyrayess or on LinkedIn.

The success of any business is a combination of several defining factors including quality of the product or service, competition level, team competency and more. Amongst these, clear communication is arguably one of the most important.

Business communication is not limited to passing information amongst team members. Its real value lies in ensuring the symmetry between goals, processes, mission and values. In other words, good communication, internally within the company and externally with your customers, is the key to making progress and improving your business.

The Intention and Interpretation Challenge

To further understand the importance of communication, let us start by looking at the intention and interpretation gap that is the root of all communication problems. In simple terms, this is the gap between what I intended to say and how you interpreted what I said.

Previously, when I'd give feedback to people on my team, some would misinterpret the message and would feel as if I was putting them down. In reality, my focus was on being constructive to help the person improve. Now, to insure there is no misinterpretation, I spell out why I am saying something to clarify my intentions. Of course, people respond differently to feedback, depending on how comfortable they are hearing criticism, but from my end, I make it abundantly clear that I am trying to contribute to each person's professional development as well as the overall success of the team.

Communication gaps are a fundamental problem in all relationships, and business relations are no exception. Here are some fundamental steps to guard against a broken connection.

Hire the Right People

The first critical part is to build a team of people who share your vision: they should have similar work philosophies and priorities. If your team does not share your values -- even if they correctly interpret your intentions -- you will still discover gaps in communication. Because your core intentions are not aligned, you are much more vulnerable to this type of scenario.

To address the importance of aligned intentions, we at VenturePact decided to more rigorously vet people's goals and values. We look to see if prospective candidates are aligned with our philosophy. If everybody on the team has the same values and long term goals, they will have similar intentions. Any misunderstandings that do arise can quickly be addressed and the entire team will jump back onto the same page. However, the proverbial "bad apple" or bad hire will not take things the right way and can create problems within the team, making it that much more important to vet your candidates thoroughly.

Keep Your Environment Collaborative, Not Competitive

With the right people on board, the next step is to foster a collaborative team approach. Besides increasing efficiency, it smoothes the communication process out substantially. However, too many companies out there believe in building a competitive spirit in the hope that it will bring out the best in their employees. While this approach has its advantages, it also alters the intentions of the people in the organization, even to the point of preventing them from sharing what they have learned with their colleagues.

We have seen that people in a competitive work environment are less willing to listen and change their opinion as they feel that they would then appear to have lost the argument. Instead, the better way to look at a problem is to find the best solution without focusing on who came up with the original idea. One of our key goals at VenturePact is to maintain an environment where the team works together to find the best solution. This encourages them to discuss and debate in an open manner and communicate with colleagues and management constructively.

Clarify Each Person's Interpretation

Even with the right hiring process and a collaborative environment, complications in communication still arise. When that happens, it's not enough to just explain your intention; you also have to take note of each person's interpretation. Not only will they be able to learn the other person's perspective, but they will also be able to find out what they did to cause the misunderstanding.

To give an example, one of our team members was struggling to complete all of his work on time. I knew that the he had a lot of other things going on that week both at work and in his personal life, and not wanting him to feel overworked, offered to help out. At first, he interpreted this gesture as a lack of trust on my end; he felt that I was losing faith in him. Since we encourage open dialogue at VenturePact, he was comfortable communicating his interpretation of what I said. I quickly clarified that my intention was purely to help him out, given that we had previously discussed all the other things he had to handle that week.

This is a clear example of how a situation can change dramatically after all communication is clarified.  In effect, the best way to reduce the intention-interpretation gap is by establishing an open two-way communication channel, hiring the right people with the right values, and creating a collaborative work environment where intentions can be openly communicated and interpreted correctly.