Poor Communication: The Kiss of Death

Years ago, I needed help overcoming a challenge at CCAW. I hadn’t allocated enough resources to our customer acquisition strategy. I knew this and wanted to make a change, but I wasn’t sure how I should go about it. So, I sought advice from seasoned entrepreneurs. I walked away from the first few conversations disappointed by their high-level, superficial feedback. At first, I concluded that they didn’t understand my market well enough to provide useful feedback.

Upon reflection, though, I realized that I was the problem. I had relationships with these entrepreneurs, so I approached the meetings like friendly “what’s new with you?” conversations. I shared my thoughts on my situation as they came to me. In my head it all seemed logical, but as it came out I was jumping all over the place. This left the people I was talking to somewhat confused and trying to fill in the gaps. It wasn’t that they weren’t capable of helping me work through the problem and find a solution. Quite the opposite. These people had built massive companies and solved complex problems doing so. I was communicating poorly. Because I didn’t explain the situation clearly, they weren’t able to provide the feedback I hoped for. And I’m sure they didn’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me how bad my communication was.

When I realized this, I put my thoughts on paper and created a diagram and one-page summary. I held another round of meetings and this time received the caliber of advice I was looking for. The one-pager was helpful, but most people didn’t read the entire document; they focused on the diagram and overview. It was the process of creating the document that added the most value. It forced me to mentally organize my thoughts so I could communicate them succinctly. Now people could see what I was talking about!

In my opinion, more problems are rooted in poor communication than we acknowledge. For founders, this can be the kiss of death. If your team or customers don’t understand what you’re saying, you’ll likely fail.

Next time you’re struggling to make progress, not seeing eye to eye with others, or feeling misunderstood, call a mental time out. Look at yourself. Are you communicating clearly?