The quality of our communication with others in every context of our lives is critical to ensure we achieve what we want and desire.
I recently witnessed a team building exercise involving four large teams who were told that each team represented a particular belief. They were tasked to convert the group with the opposing belief to their way of thinking. Each team successfully assigned a leader, but no-one asked questions to gain clear understanding of what their belief meant to the team or what was their strategy to convert people across. In fact, the four teams splintered into smaller groups which went on to do their own thing. Noone was able to convert anybody across to their point of view, even though they all ultimately wanted the same outcome. It was a complete failure in communication.
If our communication is poor, we are unlikely to achieve our goals, and if we do, it’s probably due to ‘good luck’ rather than taking responsibility for what we hear or how we deliver our message. By being accountable for our communication, we determine our own personal success, because the outcome we get demonstrates how well we have taken ownership of this two way process.
The good news is, if our misunderstanding or message failed to get the outcome we wanted, we can review our communication and identify where we did well and not so well. This means we can do it differently and better next time if we notice what works and what doesn’t.
If our communication doesn’t get the results we like, there could be several reasons for miscommunication:
1. Agreement is made upon different meanings because parties haven’t checked to clarify if they have the same understanding.
2. Rapport hasn’t been created between parties and communication doesn’t allow engagement with one another. Sometimes rapport may not be necessary, but in many cases, being in a space where minds think similarly or are open to new ideas is essential for being understood and gaining understanding. It’s essential to create win/win outcomes, otherwise parties could be working at cross purposes with one another.
3. Parties haven’t articulated themselves as clearly as they could have. This could be due to:
o Not being clear about own outcomes. If we don’t know what the end result looks or feels like, we can’t possibly tell others what is required of them or carry out instructions. If we took responsibility for our communication, we would either clarify what a successful outcome looks like so we can identify with what’s required; or we take time out to assess what we want to achieve so we can communicate it effectively.
o Assumptions were made about the information we delivered or received. We cannot afford to make assumptions that our audience has the same understanding as us because we all see and interpret the world differently due to our individual values and beliefs.
o Seeing the big picture versus the little picture, and vice versa. Some people see the world in big chunks of information and others see it in lots of detail. If a big picture person conveys limited, high level information to someone who requires details to see the whole picture, there will potentially be a misunderstanding. The big picture person might expect the detailed person to be able to fill in the gaps, but if the detailed person can’t see the bigger picture, they may not reach the same level of understanding as the bigger picture person because of their individual view of how they see the world. The reverse is also possible; the big picture person may get lost or switch off ‘listening’ to the finer details.
In all of the above cases, the key to understanding is checking in and asking questions to ensure everyone has the same level of understanding. This means allowing for questions and answers and checking in to determine if everyone has understood the same meaning. This could be as simple as each party repeating back their interpretation of the communication they have just been part of.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright profoundly said; ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ Yet it is the quality of our communication that will determine the quality of our lives. If we take responsibility for what we say and what we hear, and continually seek to improve our level of communication, we are likely to achieve more successful outcomes no matter how small or big our objectives are.
If your communication gets the results you seek, then you are taking responsibility for it. If you notice you’re not getting the results you want, you have a great opportunity to improve your communication by assessing your style and changing it so it’s far more effective by:
• Asking for honest feedback from your audience
• Determining if you really did get the results you wanted
• Asking yourself where you believe you could have done better or where misinterpretation might have occurred
• Asking yourself if your audience were with you or against you
By taking these initial steps, you are on the way to improving your communication, and ultimately your personal success.
Remember you are responsible for the outcomes in your life. It’s up to you to change your thoughts and actions to be able to achieve the goals and dreams you desire.
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