Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest mistake with communication is assuming that it happened.”
I’ve noticed lately that several clients are questioning their communication skills. The identifying question or moment seems to be that they’re not being heard which usually means tasks are not getting completed or deadlines are not being met. A hugely frustrating place to be when you think you are clearly stating the request or requirement.
After requests to complete things have been consistently bypassed, one tends to ask what they are doing wrong and why they are not being heard. There are two big parts to this scenario:
- What do you want/what are you saying?
- What does the other person want/what are they hearing?
There are two people involved in any communication, the speaker and the listener. Often, we take turns at these roles in a conversation and both require quite different skills to be truly effective at them.
If your role is the speaker in any scenario, your first job is to make sure you’re on the same page as the listener. Do they know what the context of the conversation is and what you’re hoping to get out of it? Is this a friendly chat or is this an employer speaking to an employee who is making a request? If there is any question as to what the point or goal (context) of the conversation is, you’re on the back foot from the start. Always make sure you are in agreement about the focus of the conversation before you begin. If you need to switch gears part way through, then the same applies, make sure you are aligned!
It is also your role to make sure that the conversation is summarised and you have agreed the outcomes and responsibilities afterwards if that is necessary.
You may of course want to ask some questions of the listener to make sure they have heard what you are hoping to communicate. Never assume that they have heard what you thought they did. This is leaving too much up to chance given the million lenses we all look and hear through and the many other thoughts and ideas running through our minds at any given time.
The listener’s role is of course, to listen. Actively listen. We’ve heard a lot about active listening which involves making sure you are present and are clear about what you’re hearing by reiterating any major points and checking in that you’ve understood clearly what the speaker is saying, but it’s more than that.
Everyone has responsibilities in a communication. It is also the listener’s responsibility to check that they understand the context of the conversation and are able to commit to that as well, not run their own agenda.
At the root of all communication is the question: Do you know what you want?
So often we think we are clear on what we need or are asking for but it can come out mixed and unclear. Perhaps another way to think about it, is to identify why you want something done or why you are communicating at all. If we can understand our real reason for asking or discussing something then it helps us to identify if we are really asking the right question or sharing the meaning clearly.
It’s okay to say what you want, in fact, it’s fundamental to running a business and moving forward in our personal lives. Sometimes though the hardest person to say it to is ourselves. Take the time to consider what you want, why you want it and then the clarity of our communication becomes infinitely more so.