Communication is paramount to the success of all the work that we do. So it is alarming when research reports that more than 80% of us are miscommunicating on a daily basis. Leading to misunderstandings, frustrations, anger, and despair.
Communication is two basic skills: listening and talking. These are skills that we learn as children. We learn to talk in infancy. We know 1000s of words by the time we hit primary school. So how does it all go terribly wrong?
The first of our basic skills is listening: “The goal of listening is to understand the content of the other person’s ideas or proposals, the meaning it has for them, and the feelings they have about it. That means being able to step into the other person’s shoes and see from his point of view the thing he is talking about”.
Sounds simple, unfortunately here is the first flaw of communication, as any wife or husband would agree: we listen to only that which we want to hear. We listen not to understand but to be understood. We pay attention only to that information that we value and that reinforces our opinions. You could call this ‘selective hearing.’ We interpret a message not based on the speaker and their intention of communication, but on our interpretation of the message.
Challenge Consulting, like many businesses is made up many types of communicators. There is my colleague that loves to explain interactions with the finest detail. There is my colleague who loves to go off on tangents and talk in metaphors, theories and analogies. There is my colleague that loves to talk in person, in meetings and over the phone. There is my colleague who is an exceptional listener, takes the time to really get an understanding of the situation before verbalising her opinion. There is my colleague that wants it straight, what do you want, when do you want it? There is my colleague that loves the small talk, really wants to understand other people on a personal level. If we didn’t respect these different styles of communication, we would be constantly miscommunicating. Focusing only on our preferred style of communication rather than looking at opportunities to adapt our communication to meet the needs of those that we are communicating with.
Here is the other flaw with communication: it is clouded by emotion when we have misunderstandings. Recently I was in a disagreement. I had a very strong viewpoint about this particular situation, and no matter what the other person was to offer I would not agree with their standpoint. I was right, they were wrong. It turns out we both were wrong. We both let an emotional reaction cloud our judgement. Because the thing about us humans is that we are emotional beings. We are designed for fight or flight, so when in that emotional response all the blood rushes away from our brains to our extremities, our ability to think is taken away as our body gets ready for action. In this state we have an uncanny ability to reinforce our incorrect thinking, narrowing in on that evidence that reinforces our own opinion of the situation. This tends to be based on the information we like to pay attention to, not the information that the speaker was trying to relay, but just what we wanted to hear.
So the art of effective communication is to stop talking. Stop getting ready to talk. Start truly listening to the content, meaning, and feeling of what that person is saying. Get confirmation of your understanding and help the person understand your own perspective with the type of information they need and value. You might be surprised at this point by how much you actually have in common, when you start to talk the same language.