“What we have here is a failure to communicate” –Cool Hand Luke. (Paul Newman)
How often is performance derailed by a failure to communicate? We lead and work through others, collaborate and seek to influence beliefs and behaviours. These all take quality communication to achieve. However, communication is perhaps the greatest single opportunity for increased efficiency and effectiveness in any business, organisation or system. It simply does not work well enough, often enough – because although we are taught to talk, we are rarely truly taught to communicate.
Communication, at its heart, is about ‘transmitting’ a message of some kind to one or more recipients, in such a way that the message they understand is equivalent to the message that was transmitted. This transmission requires pre-processing by the communicator (translation) and post-processing by the receiver (reception and decoding). The transmission is conducted through a medium using known symbols (language, hand signs, written words, pictograms, even emojis).
Think about your experience: How often to people fail to communicate well, or simply don’t ‘get’ what has been communicated? Or even worse, how often do they ‘hear’ the message, but give it different or additional meanings? How much does it cost you in time, energy and performance?
Communicating can be frustrating unless we are tactful – that is, ensuring that the other person is able to adequately ‘get’ our message. This relies on:
- The communicator being clear about the message they want to send, and its intended outcome. Too often communication happens without a clear outcome that they want from the receiver, and instead are simply ‘talking to heard’. The key outcomes that a great communicator plans includes:
o Inform: to add knowledge or information to the receiver
o Invite: to present a different point of view for the receiver to consider
o Inspire: to motivate a change in belief within the receiver
o Ignite: To spark action by the receiver
- Translating the thought or idea into a medium (speech, text, etc.) the other person can receive. Translating the message is a key point of failure for many communications. Translation relies on finding the right words, imagery, sounds, stories or concepts that the communicator believes can be received and interpreted by the receiver. Thinking from the other person’s perspective is a critical step in getting this right.
- The ability of the receiver to accurately receive the signal that is sent, without interference or distraction. If the environment is too noisy, or if they are distracted during the communication by other stimulii, the receiver may miss some (or all) of the message. Often, the person is so busy with internal thoughts or dialogue that they have no ‘bandwidth’ to receive or process the message that you are attempting to send them. Finding a way to get and keep attention, removing distraction and overcoming ‘noise’ are critical for communication to succeed
- The ability for them to understand what was sent. Ensuring that we know how the receiver communicates, what language and ideas they use are critical so that we can be understood. If we speak in English to someone who only understands Greek, their ability to decode the message is limited. In an office environment, this is where jargon often leads to communication failure –it is a language all of its own.
- The ability for the receiver to translate the communication into an idea or thought that matches that which the sender intended. The message needs to connect to the receiver, what they know and believe, so that they can make sense of what has been shared, and draw the appropriate conclusion as desired by the communicator. If the receiver is scared of dogs, then telling a story about a dog to get your point across may trigger a fear response, rather than them getting the point you were trying to make. Taking the time to know the person’s frame of reference and ‘triggers’ can aid in shaping the way you communicate for maximum effectiveness.
- The receiver being open to receive a message from the communicator. If the communicator is not trusted, or the receiver has already made up their mind on the topic, then the message may be discounted or ignored. Further, if the message is seen as unimportant, it will be unlikely to stimulate and action or change. Making the message interesting, being trusted and overcoming defensiveness and resistance are all key skills of a high quality communicator.
Every day communication fails even when both parties are invested in making it work. However, it is the responsibility of the communicator, rather than the receiver, to control each of these steps adequately so that the communication outcome can be achieved. Many communications are ineffective simply because the communicator has expectations that the receiver is willing and able to accept the message and will do the work to make the right sense out of it.
Tactful communication means consciously finding ways to be heard, understood and connect the recipient to your message, so that mutual understanding of your intention, and the outcome, is achieved.
What can you do as a communicator?
• Plan the outcome that you want, and communicate to achieve that outcome.
• Be aware that you are responsible for the communication. Keeping non-defensive, being open to test and shift what you are doing, and not being fixed in the ‘how’ you communicate opens up the possibility of getting beyond communication roadblocks as they emerge.
• Don’t just get sucked into the content. Keep yourself aware of the communication process, and its progress. Getting locked into the content means you may miss key signals about how your communication is being received and the changes you may need to make to get to your goal.
• Ensure that you can be heard, and understood. Make sure that the environment and circumstances are suitable for your communication – watch for distractions, surprises and that the person receiving the communication can do so in the form that it was intended. Watch for when people are internally processing or engaging in internal dialogue. They are simply not listening to you.
• Pause, and give people time to process the ‘chunks’ of the communication as you deliver it.
• Strive for clarity and avoid communicating through implication. Never expect that your intention is understood – communicate in the simplest way possible.
• Seek to understand, then to be understood. The more you know about the person you are communicating with, the more you can determine their current position and beliefs on the topic of interest, and the frames of reference of relevance to them. These are critical aspects of crafting your communication.
• Use stories and metaphors to keep them engaged. Facts are nice, but lack relevance. Placing them into stories makes them come alive for the person, and helps them connect with what you are sharing.
• Build trust first, then communicate. Your message will be heard and accepted more readily.
• Build agreement and avoid surprise. Prime the message beforehand if possible, and avoid waffling then dropping a bombshell. Clarity and intention are critical, and build your case in a stepwise manner is useful.
• People look for causal connections. ‘Because’ and ‘then’ are communication power words.
• Test and check. Keep checking your communication progress by testing their understanding and reshaping your communication to keep it on track. It is not possible to know every outcome that will be possible with your communication, but by checking and testing as you progress, you can ensure the best chance of reaching your desired goal.
Being a tactful communicator takes effort and practice. The payoff in performance, however, makes it a worthwhile practice. Consider your communications:
- Where does your communication effort normally break down?
- What could you do differently now to get past that roadblock?
Contact me if you want to discuss ways to enhance your communication approaches.