Misunderstandings in Communication
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3 Tools to Improve Communication

I think most of us would refer to ourselves as pretty good communicators.  When we communicate something, we usually assume the person on the receiving end understands what we mean.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

How many times do you later find out that what they understood was not what you meant?

We could play it safe and confirm what the listener heard.  But they seem comfortable – and, after all, I’m a good communicator, right?

Then the disconnect happens – followed by the immediate reaction.

This recently happened in our company – and reminded me about the importance of staying on top of our communication skills.  This probably sounds familiar – some information was shared, and the interpretation of that information created some issues and concerns.

Once time was taken to review and validate, the situation was quickly resolved to a positive outcome.  But this could have been avoided.  Both parties had failed to gain clarity before reacting.

In other words, everyone involved behaved like normal human beings.

With all of the different methods and modes of communication available to us today, it’s more important than ever that we bring our best skills to the party.

It’s not what’s said – it’s what’s heard.

Communication is the responsibility of the speaker.  It’s on you to ensure that the message you deliver is received how you intend.   Here are a few things you can do to help:

Know your audience & make it about them. Try to put yourself in their shoes and frame your message accordingly.  Consider their perspective on the situation and other factors like demographics (age/occupation/geography/etc.) that could influence their understanding.

Use tools to support your message. These will vary with how you’re conveying information in a given situation – but might include things like examples, anecdotes, graphics/images, and even video.  What you have at your disposal will vary if you’re speaking in person, over the phone, via text/email/IM/zoom, etc.  Just make reasonable use of the options you have available to help you deliver.

Question the listener’s understanding. This is probably one of the most underused tools available – and it goes beyond simply asking something along the lines of, “Are you with me?”  Depending on the situation and the criticality of the information, you may want the listener to repeat back to you what they understood.  If that isn’t appropriate in the specific situation, you can simply ask questions to draw out their understanding.  This doesn’t take long to do – and can head off a lot of issues.

Listeners aren’t off the hook, either.  Listeners can aid in this by actually, well, listening.  Give the speaker (or email, message, or whatever) your focus and attention.  Ask questions – and make sure you’re in sync with what the speaker is conveying.

The most important part of communication is ensuring that the speaker and the listener(s) walk away from their interaction with the same understanding.  It’s not easy – considering our individual interpretation filters, not to mention all of the modes of communication now available to us.  But truly mastering communication would definitely be a superpower.