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by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Communication, Make It Happen Tipsheet, ManagementTagged as: ,

Have you ever been in a situation where you answered someone’s question, and you’re sure that they didn’t “get” your answer? Or have you tried to explain an issue to a work colleague – and all you get is a blank stare?

When this happens, you may think that the other person isn’t particularly smart. Or you may think they are playing dumb to frustrate you. Or you bemoan the fact that you have to work with people like that. When your colleagues, clients, suppliers, or especially your family can’t understand you, it can be terribly frustrating.

To solve the problem, recognize where the problem starts: if you want to be understood, it is up to you to make it happen. And the key to this is to recognize that everyone thinks differently, and that most people will think differently than you. When you force others to think using your logic and your idiom, they feel uncomfortable, and their capacity to understand your needs (let alone buy into them) is much reduced.

There are many reasons why people think differently:

  • Different cultural backgrounds
  • Different languages/International experience
  • Different generations
  • More “creative”/More “analytical”
  • Different educational backgrounds
  • Different family situations

These differences are often encompassed by the term “diversity”. If you are managed by people who think differently, work with people who think differently, and sell to or buy from people who think differently, then it makes sense to understand how best to develop “diverse” communication skills. And with the forces of globalization and outsourcing, this will continue to be even more important in the future.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Listen actively as you are communicating: If there are any hints of uncertainty, then try explaining it another way.

2) Ask for confirmation: Instead of merely asking whether they understand, ask them to summarize the key issues, and if there are any open questions about it.

3) Be open to alternatives: Their perspective might suggest a different way of looking at the problem, and a different way of solving it. Give them some leeway – don’t shut down initiative.

4) Seek diversity: Hire individuals who are different than you – you’ll learn from each other, and they will provide an entree into networks that would otherwise remain closed.

5) Don’t make assumptions: If someone doesn’t “get it”, don’t assume there is a language problem. Their experiences may suggest a completely different approach. They may see the problem in very different terms.


Developing flexibility is the best way to work with people who think differently than you. And like all skills, this one gets better with practice. The next time you deal with someone who thinks differently, consider them your teacher, with a very different lesson for you to learn.

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