Our ability to communicate effectively is an important component of our fulfillment, satisfaction, and success. Whether in the context of work, business, or our personal lives, communication is the way we relate to others and so convey our thoughts, ideas and feelings.
When it comes to communication, we are all “naturals.” Right from the moment of birth if not sooner, we begin learning to express ourselves and interpret responses from those around us. By adulthood we have gained much experience and find that we easily communicate exactly what need to, and even feel that we are experts in this area. Right? Maybe? Maybe not…
The more likely scenario is that we think nothing about our ability to communicate until our co-worker, friend or spouse conveys to us that they are frustrated and feel that they are not getting through to us. Or maybe we are frustrated and are the ones complaining that we are not being listened to or understood.
In the business world, miscommunication may result in procedures not followed, deadlines not met, materials not ordered or delivered, reports not prepared, etc., sometimes leading to missed objectives, decreased revenue and lower profit margins. The fact that we do not all receive, process, and communicate in the same way adds further complexity to the whole communication picture.
As if these factors weren’t enough cause for communication difficulties, a raised stress level can also affect our ability to communicate effectively. It may cause us to rush, leave out necessary words, alter our tone and attitude, and leave us short on words before we even begin. Sometimes even under the best of circumstances, we simply hit a road block. We are certain of what we are saying, but the person with whom we are communicating doesn’t seem to be “getting it.” Both parties can find themselves wondering, “how did we get here?”
When you find yourself in important or difficult conversations, consider the following ideas as ways to support you in being a first-rate communicator.
- Take responsibility for your communication. Too often we are too ready to blame the other person for either not listening to or not understanding what we have stated. When we accept responsibility for communicating, we go further to add clarity as well as to confirm that the other person has understood our meaning.
- Stephen Covey suggests you first seek to understand and then be understood. Listening with the intent to understand rather than simply listening with the intent to reply, helps the other person to feel affirmed and valued. The communication can then be more open and natural.
- Consider “active” listening when you have doubts about what is being expressed. Active listening requires you to restate what you are hearing back to the other person. Besides confirming your understanding, it supports the other person in feeling heard which is paramount in a difficult or challenging conversation.
- Notice when your emotions are too present. (“This conversation has me feeling unappreciated.”) It’s not often easy to simply turn your feelings off. Your acknowledgement of them can serve as a warning bell for miscommunication about to happen. If feelings are too strong in the moment and are getting in the way, it’s best to simply ask to continue the conversation at another time. Or, when you notice your emotions are about to kick in, ask yourself if you understood the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of what the other person is saying. When you have both, you often discover what you were about to react to was a misunderstanding.
- Notice when the other person’s emotions are too present. This is much like #4. Checking in with the other person about what they are feeling is a way of helping them acknowledge their emotions and in doing so, supports clear communication.
- Remember that we all have a communication style.
- Direct Communicators – Be aware that to those with a less direct style, your words can sound abrupt or insensitive and may be leading to a disconnect. You may want to ask questions to confirm that the other person is in sync with you. “Does that makes sense?” or “Do you know what I mean?” Check in with the other person to find out what they heard.
- Indirect Communicators – Be aware that those with a more direct style may not use all the cushioning words that you would use. Be careful not to perceive their more direct style as critical or negative. Remember too, that others may lack patience for added wordiness when time is critical.
Remember that the person you are communicating with may respond differently to the environment than you do and so behave very differently from you.
Clear communication is not only important in terms of business and career effectiveness, it is often a key ingredient to happiness and fulfillment. Increased awareness, along with the strategies listed above, will support you in a level of communication that will bolster your success.