How to Be an Effective Communicator
You know that moment when you thought you had communicated something, only to realise you were misunderstood? Or that time you thought you replied an email, only to end up being asked the same thing again later?
We all know that communication is a skill and that it takes time and effort to hone, and we also know that communication is a two-way street.
“Give and take.”
“It takes two to tango.”
You get the idea. However, I suspect many of us are less aware on how to drive safely on the street of Communication. We might not be aware of the various potholes and sharp corners hidden along the way.
Here I’ve compiled a couple of thoughts on this based on my encounters with others. They are people who range from young and inexperienced interns, to highly experienced senior staff members. I think you’ll find these thoughts helpful. Let’s get into it.
What are the assumptions in the conversation? Who is assuming what? Are you assuming that your listener will understand every term or concept you have mentioned, or should you take time to explain it? Do the both of you agree on the definition of the terms and jargons employed, or are you both having nuanced ideas about it?
Also, are you assuming you understood everything you heard? It wouldn’t hurt to recap what you heard at the end of the conversation so that both parties are clear about what were communicated (and what wasn’t). What a waste of precious time if you were to act on what you thought you understood only to learn that you had mis-understood.
If assumptions in an important conversation are not identified and addressed, you are not communicating, but mis-communicating.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
—George Bernard Shaw
Are you using overly general and vague words to refer to a thought or instruction? For example, as a person working with creative visual work daily, I need to be careful to be specific in my feedback and instructions. Otherwise, I might get sent something that is the opposite of what I had in mind.
To me, “make it look presentable/better/cleaner…” and etc. is useless feedback. It’s generic, vague and not in the very least helpful. Feedback would be much more useful if it was articulated well. For instance, If there are too many colours on the design, don’t just say that you would like there to be lesser colours. Maybe shortlist the colours you prefer from the design, and leave it to the designer to decide. If the poster has a photo, and you want photo to be the highlight of the design, then articulate that. In. Plain. English.
What should you do then? Be specific. Be clear. Be concise.
Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water.”
Are you holding on to any preconceived ideas that you are not willing to let go of? Is that what your listener is doing? Can you identify what those preconceived ideas are? If yes, then you are one step closer to addressing it, and that gives you have a better chance of getting your message across. Otherwise, you may as well talk to your cat as your listener is probably merely listening to respond, not to understand.
This is where the analogy of communication being a two way street applies. If your listeners (or you) are not willing to explore an idea on a deeper level, then the street is merely flowing one way. Traffic is backed up on the other direction. The same applies to you. Are you willing to suspend your preconceived ideas for the moment so that you are able to properly weigh the feasibility of the ideas presented?
No doubt it requires maturity to do so. But, when you are able to let go of your preconceived ideas, you are being willing to grow.
“It’s amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions.”
Do you allow others to finish their thought before responding? If not, why? Do you think you know better, or that you think you know what they are trying to say, even before they complete their sentence? If so, you need to head back up to my first point on dealing with assumptions.
Allowing others to complete their thought will allow you to better understand what they are trying to communicate. That way, you will be in a better position to respond. Better still, you might learn something new. Often a disagreement descends into verbal sparring (think Karate) and that sets up the conversation for failure, because there can only be one winner in a match. So seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Also, I think interrupting others is really bad form. It indirectly communicates to others that you have little self-control or that you are insecure, such that you can’t even allow others to complete a sentence. In the two-way street of Communication, interrupting others is akin to driving on the wrong side of the road.
Give and take: let others finish, so that they too will allow you to finish.
“Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.”
Do you have the discipline to formulate a thought in your mind before blurting it out? Or are you often the first to speak whatever that comes to your mind? Do you have the discipline to not interrupt others while they are talking? Are you able to listen intently with the desire to understand, and not to respond? If no, what is stopping you from developing that discipline?
When answering an email, do you have the discipline to answer it point-by-point such that everything that was raised in the email is addressed? If no, why not? If you practice skimming through work emails that are sent to you, would you accept it if it was also done to you by others? Are you disciplined enough to proofread your emails so that you make sure you are being clear in every sentence.
Written communication has the benefit of being written; you can keep editing it until it’s as clear as you would like it to be, unlike the spoken word. When speaking, we have more room for error as communication is happening in real-time; any misunderstanding might be ironed out immediately with a quick call for clarification, unlike written communication.
“Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built. Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure.”
I hope you’ve found these insightful and thought-provoking. All of us, regardless of age and station in life, can learn to communicate more effectively as it will allow us to be a better person, no matter the situation.
Creative Lead by day, writer by night, husband and dad throughout. I write about things that interest me and lessons I’ve learnt. My views are my own. Check out other things I’ve written.