Where does communication go wrong?

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Where does communication go wrong?

There’s no doubt – we all tend to take communication for granted. But as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “The problem with communication… is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”

We believe it to be a straightforward process and that when we say something the other person understands us fully and we, of course, understand them perfectly as well. But actually, it’s not that simple.

So how can we ensure that we get our message across successfully?

Let’s look first at what tends to go wrong.

Thought does not mean said –  Most people ‘babble on’ without really thinking about what they are saying and whether their message is clear. To combat this, as a speaker you should:

  • pause
  • collect your thoughts
  • ask yourself what you are really trying to communicate
  • as you say it, mentally check that it was what you actually intended to communicate.

Said does not mean heard – Make sure you talk at a volume loud enough to be heard; talk clearly and articulate every syllable. Do not talk over people as they won’t register what you are saying if they are talking themselves. Also, make sure you are being interesting in what you are saying so you can maintain their attention. Do not talk too fast or too slow, do not talk for too long, use short and simple words, use words they understand and can relate to.

Heard does not mean understood – This is quite similar to the last consideration. Use their language, do not use jargon or acronyms they may not understand. When communicating something complex it is a good idea to check their understanding  with an open question such as “What do you understand by this?” Going visual can also help. Draw it as well as saying it as this allows you to convey complicated thoughts quite effectively, especially if the other person has a visual learning style.

Understood does not mean agreed  – If your communication objetive is to persuade, then you need to check that you have genuine agreement from the other party. Ask them if they agree, but again, using an open question; a direct, closed question such as “Do you agree”  may get a ‘yes’ but this may not be enough to support a sustainable agreement especially in a negotiation conversation. It is also a good idea to check the non-verbal communication aspect; Are they saying they agree but does their body language, facial expression and tone of voice suggest otherwise?

If you have an important conversation pending and wish to make sure your communication will be as effective as possible, take the above considerations into account, do not assume that communication has taken place simply because you uttered some words!



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