Sometimes, even when you think you’re communicating clearly, you really aren’t. We almost always make our own communication assumptions. When these assumptions aren’t questioned or discussed, it can cause a big mess.

Here’s an example of how easily we can make communication assumptions. 

Some time ago, I agreed to meet my son, Jaron, halfway between his house and mine to deliver his dog, who we had been babysitting for the week. It worked out because I was leaving on a business trip and could meet on my way through Seattle. We talked about meeting on “the weekend” all week.

On Saturday morning, Jaron called me:

Me: “Hi, are you calling about the meeting time and place for Jager?”

Jaron: “Yeah”.

We proceeded to coordinate the time and place to meet for lunch and the doggie drop, but we missed one little, important detail. He assumed we were meeting that day – on Saturday – and I assumed we were talking about Sunday.

A few hours later, I got a phone call from him wondering where I was. I was at lunch with friends. Then he asked what city I was in. The conversation got really confusing after that. It turns out that he was at the designated place at the right time, but a day earlier than me.

Now, I was assuming we were talking about Sunday, because why would I leave on a business trip on a Saturday? He was assuming Saturday because that’s the first day of the weekend.

A few minutes after our conversation ended I got this text: For a communication skills expert, you weren’t very clear. Ouch!

The experience reminds me that even though we know better we don’t always practice clear communication. I talk about clarifying for understanding in my workshops and reiterate often: Don’t make any assumptions when communicating. Ever.

Here are three steps to making sure you don’t get caught in the all too familiar assumption trap.

1. Be specific.

When communicating details, be as specific as possible, and remember to include the where (with details), when, and time.

Bad example: So, we are meeting this weekend at the mall.

Good example: So, we are meeting at noon on Saturday in the lobby of Red Robin at the South Center Mall.

2. Ask questions.

Don’t assume you both understand the same thing! Ask questions to clarify that you understand what you are both talking about.

3. Repeat.

Repeat back what you’ve just heard or said. Make sure you’re on the same page one last time. Also, be prepared to take notes or write it down so you can reinforce what you’ve heard.

When I called later to apologize for my part in the confusion, he said: So I’ll see you tomorrow, Sunday, the 27th of March at noon at Little John’s restaurant off of 45th in Seattle.

Yes, yes you will.

Do you find yourself wishing you could be a better communicator both at home and at work? Learn these skills and develop the self-confidence you need with my new online course, Communication Skills for Success. For any questions or to learn more, you can also contact me for a free 30-minute consultation.

Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.