How Do We Communicate? Let Me Count the Ways.
Speaking, texting, writing, sign language, body language, hand gestures, infographics, graphics, email, snail mail, instant messaging, meetings (on and off-line), phone calls, speeches, social media, sky writing, telling stories, and advertising are some of the ways we communicate. Yet, we still have communication challenges. What’s up with that?
People, while often the solution, are also often barriers to communication. How can that be? We know the message we want to deliver; we know who we want to receive the message, and we know how we want to deliver it. Not so fast. Market research is full of new product or service failures after listening to customers tell organizations what they want. Case in point: New Coke. The podcast “You Are Not So Smart” further explores the idea that we are not always that smart about what we want. Sometimes our brain will just “fill in the blanks” when delivering a message about something we think we have seen. So, how do we communicate in these situations?
First think, before you speak. Think about the message you want to deliver. Even better, think about who your audience is for this message. Is your message a fit for this audience? Is the content over their heads? Is the content too basic for them? Better yet think about the result you want from the message you deliver. Do you want the receiver to take some action after hearing what you have to say? This is why your business call to action is important. You want people to purchase your products or services. Do you want the person to feel something? You know as in when you express your romantic feelings or intent to someone. Or perhaps, you just want to give them “food for thought”? As in, “Can we think of a better way to deliver customer service?” Here, you are looking for ideas, some of which may result in action.
Say what? Our poor listening habits may be one of, if not the biggest communication challenge plaguing humans. We often practice passive listening. While the other person is talking, we are only using one of our ears to hear. Our brains have traveled off in another direction taking our other ear with it to thinking about what we want to say, or something we need to do as soon as this conversation is over, or we’re on the path of sheer disinterest. The latter is more likely when we have some bias toward the bearer of the message or the topic. While it’s true, not every conversation is life or death, I reeeeaaallllllyyyy want my brain surgeon to be practicing active listening. Here too, is often the rub. The message being delivered may be important to the one delivering it, but not to the one receiving it, for whatever reason. How do we become better at listening?
If you’re delivering a message, is it something the receiver needs to hear? Do you need to be more persuasive, or find some way to help the listener understand the importance of your message? If the message is important, what can you do to ensure that your message has not only been heard, but understood? Or do you just need to keep silent at this particular time on this particular topic to this particular person?
If you are the listener, perhaps empathy or mindfulness might be the order of the day. Could you put yourself in the other person’s shoes during the conversation? If you listen actively, you won’t have to say, “Wait, what, did you say? I was zoning out.” How embarrassing is that? If you fail to listen actively, you may miss part of the message, and it never fails to be the most important part. Then you know what kicks in at that the time you need that part of the message…Murphy’s Law. What does active listening look like?
- Maintain eye contact. This does not mean staring someone down, it means don’t continually look over their shoulder or around the room to see who else might be there.
- Pay attention.
- Don’t interrupt unless you need clarification. Wait for a pause or at the end of the conversation is that makes sense to do so.
- Keep an open mind and avoid being judgmental
- Illustrate that you are listening with body language, such as a head nod, etc. Don’t fidget.
- Keep the conversation on track.
Questioning can be tricky, so you want to do it at the right time and in the right manner.
Talk about a challenge to communication. People with high egos may try to take charge of meetings, think their opinion is all that matters, are sure they have all the answers, adhere to the philosophy, my way or the highway, or be self-righteous. None of these attitudes are conducive to conversation or communication. The article Is Your Ego Driving Your Communication? offers some good advice for those with big egos. What are some ways to communicate with big egos?
Managing and communicating with people who have big egos takes finesse. Be sure your managers understand how to communicate with them and other difficult people.
- Acknowledge their strengths
- Let them know that while they are good at what they are doing, they could be great
- Offer ideas and suggestions – never challenge them
- Be sure to include follow-up and check in dates on progress
- Always allow them to save face
At times, it may be necessary to stand up and be firm with a difficult report or teammate, but bullying, yelling, put downs, or violence is never the answer. Having a culture where everyone checks their egos at the door helps as well.
This is probably one part of communication none of us hears a lot. Think about how often you hear, “Oh, that was my fault.” Or simply “I’m sorry.” Or “I’ll have to take the blame for that.” I’ll wait while you think of a time. Yawn. Being honest about taking responsibility and having the humility to apologize opens the flood gates for communication. Having finger pointing as your organization’s coat-of-arms does has just the opposite effect. Communication shuts down, ideas dry up, and innovation takes a hike.
Further, accountability and communication are a two-way street. The organization must take accountability for the many ways people communicate, having the right tools to communicate, and to be sure all messages are clear.
How do we communicate? Let me count the ways may not hit every way we humans find to communicate our messages, feelings, and thoughts. However, we now have some better ideas about communication challenges and how to meet them.
Thank you for reading this blog. For more information on meeting your communication challenges, Let’s Get Started!