What do you think? 


You may be thinking I’ve lost my mind because you have no idea what I’m talking about!  If this is the first time this has ever happened to you, CONGRATULATIONS!  For most of us, this happens much more often than we’d like.

If you’re still not clear about what I’m talking about, I hope the following example helps. 

Let’s say you’re talking with George, someone you work with (you can imagine them as a colleague or an employee).  You’re telling George about an issue you have had with a client.  The client called to make changes to the work you were supposed to deliver tomorrow.  You go into detail with George.  Then, your phone rings and you have to answer it. 

George goes back to his work. 

You talk on the phone for 10 minutes. 

After you hang up, you go to George and say “What do you think?”  You’re FRUSTRATED because he gives you a look of complete confusion!  You may be thinking, what’s the matter with this person?  I just spent 20 minutes talking about this situation with George.  Why can’t he just tell me what he thinks? 

While you were on the phone, George was engrossed in his own project that, by the way, is facing a critical deadline.  He really didn’t have any idea what you were talking about.  He was not being difficult.  He genuinely didn’t know what you were asking. 

At this point of “dual confusion”, it is not uncommon for each person to become frustrated, impatient with flaring tempers.  Which as you can imagine, does not help the situation in the least. 

Has something like this happened to you?  I know personally I’ve been on both sides of this communication dilemma. 

What can you do to change the outcome of this type of an interaction? 

If you are the person ASKING “What do you think?”, here are four steps you can take:

  • Stay calm
  • Acknowledge you goofed by starting in, what I call, “the middle of a conversation”
  • Briefly recap the highlights of the earlier conversation for the other person
  • Then re-ask your question

If you are the puzzled person BEING ASKED “What do you think?”, here are three steps you can take:

  • Stay calm
  • Mention you have been engrossed in your own work
  • Ask them to clarify how you can help

From personal experience, I know sometimes I think people are right there in my head with me and they know exactly what I’ve been thinking.  The truth is they’ve been in their OWN head and they may think YOU know exactly what they’ve been thinking.  This is one of the challenges of effective communication.  Don’t assume (because we all know what happens then…) the other person knows what you’ve been thinking.  If you take a little time to get them up to speed, you’ll find the outcomes will be much less stressful, much clearer and ultimately, you’ll get the response you wanted.

Helen Kosinski
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