Shirley's Articles / Speaking with Confidence

The Dos And Don’ts Of Ensuring Understanding

We all know the price we pay when there are misunderstandings. We waste time, energy and resources. We may also damage morale, support, and even entire relationships.

Clarifying quickly, lightly and often is the key to preventing misunderstandings and assumptions. But what are some things to watch out for?

If you’re checking that another person has understood you:

Don’t ask

“Do you understand?” or “Any questions?”

Too many of us are embarrassed about admitting that we don’t understand. You will likely not get a truthful answer.

Do ask

“What are your questions?”

This gives them permission to have questions and encourages them to ask.

“I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here. Can you tell me what you understand so far?”

Getting them to retell what you’ve just said is the best way to ensure they’ve understood. But never say, “I want to make sure you understand.” It may make look as though you see them as unintelligent. Instead, say “I want to make sure we are on the same page.”

If you need to clarify what someone else has said:

Don’t ask

“Can you repeat that?”

This dumps all the responsibility on them. They now must either probe to find out what exactly you need clarification on. Or they are forced to repeat the whole thing.

Do ask

“I understand what you said about the invoicing procedure, but I didn’t get the steps to follow if they don’t pay on time. Could you repeat that part?”

Starting with what you did understand builds trust that you’ve listened, and it helps them manage their reply.

The keys to clarifying are to do it lightly and gently but often. Your counterpart will be as grateful as you that you are in synch with each other throughout the conversation.

Article written by Marianna Pascal

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Shirley is an international bestselling author. She has established herself as a leading authority in email and business writing skills. Her international bestseller Model Business Letters, Emails & Other Business Documents 7th edition sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 17 languages. Her book Email Essentials reached #2 in the USA for publishers Marshall Cavendish International. Find out more about Shirley at

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