“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw
As humans we often assume that ‘Because I spoke, the message was delivered. Because that message was delivered it was received, interpreted, and understood correctly by the person we were conversing with.’
Unfortunately, communicating is a little more complicated than this. Our messages don’t always ‘land’ or produce the reaction we are looking for. To explain this, we need to look at the three distinct components to communication:
What I said
What I think I said
What the other person/s heard
There are a lot more moving parts to communicating with someone than we think. Remember that approximately 93% of communication is non-verbal. However, when preparing to deliver a message to someone, how much time do you spend preparing your words vs your actions?
Let’s look just at our words for a moment. There is an innate assumption that words hold the same, weight, meaning and purpose for the individual I am communicating with as they do myself. What we need to be aware of, however, is that words are not physical tangible items.
For example, 32 grams of Gold, is 32 grams of gold wherever you take it around the world. But if you use the word “horrendous” in a sentence, you produce a different level of response, reaction and interpretation of the event you are describing from each individual you talk to.
This may not interrupt your message being clearly received every time, but it will sometimes. If you are reading this, then I can probably assume (although that should probably be considered a dirty word in this blog) that you have some pretty serious conversations on a semi-regular basis where you can’t afford the message not to land.
So how do we ensure that our message lands and sticks? How do we ensure that our message is received correctly? And ensure we build are relationships through accurate and effective communication, not dilute them. The answer is two fold.
Tips for your Communication
Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
Starting off with some pretty common knowledge here and certainly not what you would call communication brain surgery. But, as the wise man once said, what is common knowledge if it is not taken into common practice?
Step 1: Ensure you take the time to prepare what you are going to say. Then, review it, refine it, and think about it from the other person’s point of view – ‘how would I interpret this message?’ Take 20 minutes to ensure you have the correct message for the correct audience (e.g. what personal factors may filter their interpretation of this information). Twenty minutes now is much better than four months of relationship breakdown because your boss or colleague thinks you’re an idiot.
Step 2: Straight and to the point, mark out the 3 major factors you want to get across in your communication. This will prevent you from ‘waffling’ (again, preventing your boss from questioning why they hired you). If there are more than 3 major points, it is probably best to organise to communication points
You Never Win With Emotion
Remember that adjectives are more effective in small doses, along with physical communication. You want to show purpose in what you are saying, but communicating in an overly expressively manner diminishes the integrity of your message. Instead, you will come across as the passionate idiot, as opposed to the purposeful expert.
Speak with appropriate tone, clarity and volume (don’t shout). Use body gestures within your personal space
Understand that the Person You Are Communicating With Is Not a Mind Reader
As mentioned before, the greatest proportion of our communication occurs non-verbally. So as part of your prior preparation prevents poor performance routine, take the time to plan how you are going to deliver your message. What emotions and energy are going to match you message? Having a plan will prevent the ‘awkward smile’ when delivering a negative or hard message (a common go to when we are trying to soften the reality of what we are saying).
Remember also that the average person needs to express themselves 10% extra than they think. Often, we think we are expressing ourselves when we are not. If it feels silly, then it’s working. But also remember to temper this advice if you know yourself to be a particularly expressive person
Tips for Engaging the Other Person
The other factor to consider is that we often fail to check if our message has actually landed. We can be so caught up in what we are saying, that once said, we shut down the communication. At best, we may ask a close ended question and obtain a one-worded response. An example would be ‘Did you understand what I said?’, however, this doesn’t give us a true indication of understanding.
Allow time once you have finished communicating, or intermittently while you are communicating to ask the other person their perspectives and perceptions. Asking open ended questions (questions which elicit a sentenced response) such as who, what, where, when, how and why produce these responses. These styles of questions ask for the other persons elaborated responses. Its like when your maths teacher asked you to show your working, not just the answer. It enables them to contribute (producing buy in to your idea) and also helps you gain a proper understanding of their interpretation of what you have said, and where any misalignment may be so you can target that specific area.
Our Psych Up! resources in February focus on the art of communication. Make sure to stay tuned for our weekly blog post updates, as well as our podcasts and webinars.