From potato to progress: Addressing communication breakdowns

From potato to progress: Addressing communication breakdowns

Charlotte Stoel

Charlotte Stoel

“Potato!”

Ah, right, my two-year old wants that mash potato she didn’t finish earlier, I better go get it.

“No, potato”, she says again but pointing at her craft box.

“Oooh, you’re asking for your Play-Doh.”

I wasn’t listening intently enough, and instead heard what I wanted to hear – her wanting more of the wonderful meal I prepared, of course!

Miscommunication and misunderstanding are part and parcel of life. They happen often, and if corrected in good time, no big deal. But what happens when there’s a communication breakdown that is left unaddressed? The relationship breaks down too.

At the end of last year, I read a WSJ article based on a report from McKinsey that revealed nine out of 10 CEOs feel that marketing has a clearly defined role at their companies, yet only 22% of marketing leaders agree. And it’s down from 31% in 2019.

This gap is significant and is likely largely down to assumptions and misaligned expectations. And why the widening of this gap? It’s been a tough economic climate and when there’s pressure, there’s more scope for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

An analysis in the report also found that “C-suite leaders, with scant to no experience in marketing, reach out to the department hoping to find growth drivers in a very mixed economy.” This sentiment is backed by the fact that only 10% of CEOs at Fortune 250 companies have worked in marketing.

The ‘understanding gap’

C-Suite leaders don’t actually need first-hand experience or an in-depth understanding of marketing operations, but the CMO does need to understand exactly what the CEO requires. And then deliver it. This 'understanding gap' worsens when expectations are not made clear.

An 'understanding gap’ can also turn into an 'appreciation gap', and this is where frustration festers which doesn't bode well for anyone, or the wider organisation. If a relationship isn’t based on mutual respect, then it’s not a functional relationship.

Getting on the same page

1. Listening, and I mean really listening

I will never forget delivering training on ‘active listening’ to a team member, who then said, “this is a bit basic”. Yes, it is basic, but active listening is actually harder than you think. You may believe you’re doing it by listening, staying quiet, nodding your head and maybe even repeating back what you heard. But have you done it with self-awareness and empathy, making sure to pick up on other subtle cues to ensure the speaker feels truly listened to?

You can hear, or you can actively listen. I heard potato, I responded. Had I actively listened – listening attentively to my daughter, really looking to understand what she was saying, paying attention to verbal and nonverbal cues – maybe I would’ve given her what she was asking for.

Of course, that’s not a high stakes scenario. But when the consequences are major, active listening becomes so incredibly important, not only so a situation is crystal clear in your mind, but also for trust and respect.

2. Clarifying/Replaying

Clarification is part of active listening and is the best way to proactively ensure everyone is on the same page. It’s not just about repeating back a point either, it’s about rephrasing it or re-contextualising it, or even asking further questions around it, to be certain that what’s being said is clear and understood.

And be mindful, the person you’re clarifying with may not be actively listening, so how do you navigate that? You clarify and replay in multiple ways to catch misunderstandings early. For example, in the moment or maybe after the meeting in written form.

3. Atmosphere of collaboration

Good collaboration starts with judgement-free exchanges of ideas and insights. In fast-paced environments, pausing and having moments of reflection can be hard to squeeze in, but they become an important part of staying aligned and fostering strong collaboration.

Defining clear roles and responsibilities enables fast progress in-between these moments of pause, particularly when it comes to streamlining decision-making processes. By leveraging respective areas of expertise, CEOs and CMOs combine their super-powers to drive growth, enhance brand reputation, and capitalise on market opportunities.

Effective communication is not just a matter of exchanging words; it's about truly understanding and aligning with one another. My "potato" incident illustrates how easily miscommunication can occur even in seemingly simple interactions. However, when miscommunication happens in professional settings, the consequences can be far-reaching, leading to strained relationships and hindered organisational growth.

The worrying widening gap between CEOs' perception of marketing's role and marketing leaders' perspectives highlights the importance of actively working to bridge understanding and appreciation gaps within organisations. The market is still a little volatile and now more than ever we should be investing in relationships which are critical for our organisation’s success.

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