Communication is a part of everything, everyday, everywhere, for everyone. Why is it also the source of many conflicts and misunderstandings? Communications tend to be one-sided or incomplete. Often, we’re so busy preparing to speak that we don’t really listen. Send a quick email and check the box, they’re done. we’ve communicated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” ~George Bernard Shaw
The reality is that effective communication is the key to:
- moving any project forward
- leading teams and organizations
- marketing and sales
- procurement and planning
- smooth operations
- influencing culture
If we’re not deliberate in both what we communicate and how we do it, we’ll often fall short and possibly jeopardize the desired outcome. There are several communication pitfalls that anyone can find themselves tangled up in without much effort. If they’re not thinking broadly enough about communications as sent or received, it can create more problems than it solves. A common communication pitfall is the failure to consider the perspective of the audience.
For example, I have recently found myself feeling as though my son was attempting to manipulate me when I was told that if I didn’t act (by allowing another pet in our household), an undesirable outcome would happen (a puppy would die). The way it was stated, it came across as though the outcome would be my fault even though, until that moment, I had not been part of the decision for someone else to breed dogs nor had I previously assumed any responsibility for the litter. It had never been discussed. While I was assured that it wasn’t intended to come across that way, I felt as though the responsibility for the fate of that puppy was being laid at my feet without my consent. This communication was not well received. My son and his best friend didn’t consider the perspective of their audience.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~Anthony Robbins
Another example is when communication is not broad enough. There is a dedicated and driven team leader who works hard, solves problems and gets his team engaged in making improvements. All excellent traits for a leader. They’ve forged ahead with change after change, communicating upwards openly about these improvements, but not as much with the rest of the team. To the people who are impacted by yet another, in a series of changes, it was being done without their consent. Since this wasn’t the first time, they’re now irritated that no one asked them if they had ideas, questions or concerns. Since no one reached out, they felt left out. The dedicated team leader, a good man with a good heart, never intended to create this dynamic. They were just trying to help make it better for everyone. It wasn’t that the other opinions weren’t welcome, the communication gap wasn’t visible.
In both examples, taking time to think about how to best communicate could have avoided unintended consequences. Reaching out to the people that need to buy into the desired outcome will always help to navigate the issue. Always consider who will be receiving the communication. Ask yourself how will they hear the message you plan to share. Communicate often and early. Elicit the ideas and concerns of others. If there is going to be change involved, transparency is essential.
While bad communication can and will make you miserable, it is avoidable.
What’s your story?