Navigating Communication With Managers: What We Can Learn from the Highway

As I was driving to an important meeting the other day, I found myself in a sticky situation on the highway. I needed to take the next exit, so I turned on my signal, hoping the driver in the next lane would let me in. But to my surprise and frustration, the driver simply sped up and passed me.

I was taken aback and felt a rush of anger. But as I calmed down, I began to reflect on the situation. Maybe the driver hadn’t seen my signal, or perhaps they were having a bad day. There were many reasons for their behavior that had nothing to do with me personally.

This experience reminded me of similar moments in the workplace when communicating with managers or executive teams. We often signal our needs clearly, but sometimes the response we receive is not what we expected or hoped for. It’s easy to feel ignored and frustrated, thinking there’s a lack of support or misunderstanding.

As I continued on my way, I started to wonder, why is it so challenging to get clarity in the workplace? Could it be that the person we’re asking, much like the driver on the highway, may not fully grasp what we need or might be unable to provide it due to unknown circumstances?

When you find yourself in those moments of frustration, thinking, “I need clarity from so-and-so,” consider these three questions:

1) Do they know what you need?

It’s easy to believe that our requests are as clear to others as they are to us. But just as the driver might not have noticed my signal, the person you’re communicating with may not understand your request. Instead of repeating yourself, try asking in a different way. Then, pause, listen to their response, and check if they understood your question. This simple step can make a big difference in your communication and help steer your career growth in the right direction.

2) Is it possible they can’t provide an answer?

Not everyone feels comfortable admitting they don’t know something or can’t address an issue right away. If you’re not getting a clear response, ask, “Is there a future time when you might be able to provide an answer?” or “Is there someone else we should consult?” By taking this approach, you demonstrate resourcefulness and a willingness to find solutions, qualities that are valuable for career growth.

3) Could it be that there is no definitive answer?

In the early stages of our careers, especially in scientific or technical fields, we often expect precise answers. But as we gain experience, we come to realize that not every situation has a clear-cut solution. Instead of pressing for a concrete answer, ask what they know about the topic or how similar situations have played out in the past. By being open to different perspectives and approaches, you’ll gain the clarity you need to make informed decisions and further your career growth.

I can’t help but reflect on how that simple moment on the highway gave me a new perspective on communication. I learned that truly understanding others is a mutual effort. Just like giving a fellow driver a little more space, it’s important to give people around us a little grace. Let’s ask questions, listen intently, and be open to new ways of seeing things. In doing so, we can build stronger connections at work and push our careers forward in meaningful and unexpected ways.

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