In last month’s newsletter I unveiled the truth about myself: Even I am not immune to occasionally sticking my size 9s in my mouth. But I, like any smart career woman, simply remove it, apologize and learn from the experience. After all, every time I choke, I’m one step closer to being the best possible Misti. I got my latest life lesson on this topic when I recently insulted a friend, someone I’d never in a million years intentionally hurt.

Have you ever met someone who just doesn’t quite do things the right way? So you offer advice to help her correct the problem and try to coach as much as possible without belittling. Meanwhile, she’s probably thinking, “She just doesn’t she get it. I like the way I do it.”

My business manager (Susan), my partner (Yvette) and I recently sat down to dinner at our dining room table. During one of Susan’s stories, I interrupted her, saying, “Start over. That’s not proper English.”

I didn’t think I’d said anything out of place until I felt a swift kick in the shin from Yvette, who didn’t know I’d already told Susan to work on her grammar. So I said, “What? I’m trying to help her. She needs to get better at speaking proper English in order to be successful long-term. You do want help, right Susan? I wasn’t rude, was I?”

Though Susan wasn’t quite done with her meal, she put down her fork, grabbed her plate and said, “Actually, that was rude.” She quickly took her plate to the sink and left.

My heart was going 100 miles an hour. I felt terrible. So I chased her down the stairs and asked her to help me understand. Turns out she had personal reasons for why she does things the way she does. Plus, she had never asked for (or wanted) my input on her speech.

Susan never asked me for help – nor had she willingly accept it. She was simply putting up with me until that moment. I can imagine there were many times when I tried showing her the right way to do something and ended up sending a “you’re not good enough” message.

Here are three tips to help avoid the pitfall of assuming:

Gain Clarity: Before making a decision about anyone or anything, take time to ask questions and clarify.

Listen: We all listen through our own filters. In order to make sure you truly understand what someone is saying, echo back what you think you heard. For example, “What I heard you say is ____. Did I get it? Is there more?”

Flexibility: Let the truth be told – I usually think my way is the right way. But in reality there are many right ways to do any given task. Likewise, there are many opinions to have on any given topic. For example, it is entirely possible that Susan’s way of communicating is the most effective for her.

What’s interesting is what happened after our exchange that evening. Susan slowly began looking for better ways to say things – without my reminding her to do so. She understood that in a business context it’s important to come across well and that improving her communication skills would only aid in her career development. She just didn’t need to hear about it every time she screwed up. Bottom line: When I really listened to her, rather than telling her what to do, I finally accomplished my original goal – without hurting anyone.

Rock on!