How To Avoid Missed Understanding With These Three Simple Keys

The Miss Florence Diner, in Florence, Massachusetts is an American landmark.

Literally.

It’s been open since 1941, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

My family’s been going to Miss Flo’s for years.  We have a family ritual where we go there for breakfast on Election Day, MLK Day, President’s Day and Memorial Day.  (All days where the kids are off from school.)

The culinary standards for Miss Flo’s are not high.  It’s a prototypical diner, and the food is standard diner fare.  We go less for the food than for the experience.

I usually order the same breakfast each time I go:  the 2+2+2.  It’s a plate with two eggs, two sausages, and two pieces of bacon.

Last week, while I was ordering the 2+2+2, the waitress completely surprised me.

She said, Do you want the sausage and bacon, or would you like either ham or kielbasa and sauerkraut with your eggs?

I repeated back, Ham?

Yes.  We serve Ham off of the bone.  It’s one of the most popular things we have.  Some people like it with sauerkraut.  It comes with spicy mustard.    

She then shouted to the four men in the booth next to ours.

Mitch, how do you like that ham and sauerkraut?

Mitch, a stocky man with a big grey beard, shouted back:

Best ham I ever had.  Delicious.  Kraut’s great too.

I scanned the menu.  I’d looked at this menu dozens of times.  It hadn’t changed in at least a decade.  I didn’t see ham anywhere.

You have ham?  It’s not on the menu, I inquired.

No?  Well, we have it.  You just have to ask for it.

I ordered the ham with my eggs.  And the sauerkraut.

She was right. It was delicious.

And as I was enjoying it, I kept thinking, “How come no one ever told me about this before?”

One of the biggest challenges to effective organizational communication is not misunderstanding, but missed understanding.    The experience where you miss out on critical information because you don’t know what you don’t know.  With a more limited pool of data, you make inferior decisions.

It’s hard to fix missed understanding on your own.  After all, how would you know that you didn’t know?  Some examples of this at work might be:

  • People who have improved a process, but haven’t shared it.
  • People who have discovered a new customer need, but don’t let the rest of the team know what it is.
  • People who have simplified their work flow, but never mention it.

All of these behaviors are symptomatic of an organization that chronically misses understanding.  You can think of it “Ham on the bone” syndrome.

The costs associated with missed understanding are tremendous.

Here are three ways to address missed understanding:

  1. Let go of the mindset of “I’m sure this is obvious”.

Just because you do something new doesn’t mean that others are thinking about it.  If you have improved something, assume that you have the best version available.  Get it out to others as soon as you can.

  1. Don’t fear being redundant.

Many people are more worried about their ego and rocking the boat of the status quo than committed to making improvements.  If you’re afraid of sharing something that you’re concerned they might already know, you can preface your statement with “You may know this already, but just in case, I wanted to share this because it could help create better outcomes.”

  1. While working, ask yourself “Who needs to know what I know?”

In hierarchical organizations, it’s easy to think that “they” already have things taken care of.  The fact is, there is no “they”.  There’s only we.  No one else has the same perspective as you do on your work.  As you go through your workday, you have unique insights.  Share them so others don’t have to wait for inspiration to magically strike.

If you think missed understanding is happening, step up and speak up.  It’s not always easy.  It takes courage, and it’s called leadership.

In other words, don’t hide your “Ham on the Bone” under a bushel!

What suggestions do you have to make sure knowledge is shared?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 

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