Communication is hard. A large majority of problems are created from a breakdown in communication. And communication is at the root of many, many organizational challenges including stress, strained relationships, low morale, frustrated staff and clients, and more.
As I see it, there are two major communication pitfalls. I’m going to discuss the first one in this article and you can read about the second one next week. These are:
- Barriers that get in the way of sending and receiving messages
- Lacking the components of an effective communication system
First up – barriers. In every conversation there are Speakers and there are Listeners. Someone has something they want or need to share. Someone else may or may not want or need to hear the message. For the sake of simplification, this article is going to focus on two person communication; however, the concepts extrapolate out for larger conversations.
In a two person conversation, where one person speaks while the other listens, there are 3 opportunities for the intended message to become jumbled.
What is articulated:
The Speaker has thoughts or ideas in their head, and they want to share them with the Listener. When they go to share their thoughts, what they are thinking might not be what actually comes out of their mouth. Some of the reasons this happens could be:
- They may lack the words to articulate the ideas
- The Speaker might mis-speak
- If stressed, they may become confused or flustered and have trouble putting their ideas into words
- Body language that is inconsistent with the verbal message being sent causes confusion and misunderstanding
- An accent, language barrier, or speech impediment might make words hard to understand
- What is heard:
Even if listening intently, the Listener may not receive the message correctly. The game telephone is a great example of this. In the game, the barrier is the fact that players are whispering. In regular conversations barriers might include:
- Surrounding noises
- Distractions – both mental or exterior
- Volume or hearing problems
- If the conversation is taking place over the phone or via Zoom, there might be technical difficulties
- Listener’s interpretation:
Even when the Speaker articulates their thoughts accurately and the message can be easily heard, there are still opportunities for the Listener to receive the wrong message. Some of the reasons a Listener might not receive the intended message include:
- They might not know some of the words being used
- Words mean different things
- Personal biases may prevent the Listener from accepting what they are hearing
- If they are not mentally prepared to accept the message they might hear what they want to hear
- The Listener’s mind might wander or they don’t give the Speaker their full attention and therefore not receiving the entire message
Now, if the Listener switches into Speaker mode with inaccurate information, this cycle of miscommunication continues to grow and become more complicated.
As you can see, in the delivering and receiving of messages, there are so many opportunities for errors. Assuming that we communicate with the intent of being understood, it’s important to close the communication loop holes. Here are some simple techniques that can help do just that.
Send a Clear Message
When in the Speaker role, give thought to the message you are sending. Think through the best way to state it. If it doesn’t come out right, try again. Once your message is delivered, ask questions to gauge understanding.
Find a Quiet Place
Especially for important conversations, make sure you are in a space that is appropriately private, has good sound quality, and minimizes distractions.
As a Listener, reflecting back what you have just heard can be a valuable communication tool. Reflecting is not “parroting” exactly what was said. Rather it involves sharing what you understand the Speaker to mean. If you understand correctly, the Speaker feels heard and valued. If you get it wrong, it gives the Speaker the opportunity to clarify their message.
Seek to Understand
Again, as a Listener, ask follow-up questions. Work to understand their point of view. If a message comes across that puts you on the defensive, feels rude or attacking, or has a negative slant – ask more questions before jumping to conclusions. When conflict arises, it can often be tied to miscommunication.
Ensuring messages are sent and received accurately is key to quality communication. If your company has more than a few people, ensuring quality communication is key to smooth operations. On a weekly basis I hear leaders and employees complain about the lack of communication in their company. That is what I’ll tackle in next week’s article.
Need help with improving internal communication? Email me at email@example.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find opportunities for growth through improving communications.
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.