The Art of Communication

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said. ”
Peter Drucker

Do you feel misunderstood? Are people just not ‘getting it’? Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you are not expressing it in a way that people can understand? The ability to be able to present our ideas in an unambiguous, easy to understand manner is important in every aspect of our lives.

Or is your problem the fact that your partner or your boss seems to be talking Greek (you sometimes wish you had a translator!!) Before you dismiss their communication skills, remember listening is more than just paying attention and hearing the words. We need to make an effort to comprehend with an open mind and keep checking to ensure we are on the right track. One of the most common mistakes listeners make is to assume they can fill the gaps based on their understanding… which may result in an entirely different from what the speaker wanted to say.

Part of the reason is physiological. Our capacity to listen ranges from 400 to 600 words per minute whereas the average speaking rate is about 125 words per minute. This can make the listener impatient and also allows the mind to wander while the conversation is in progress. Make a conscious effort to focus on the conversation and be patient. Chances are, if you listen without interrupting, you will also get an audience when you want to speak.

As Anthony Robbins said “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

Communication has best been defined as the “ Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information but also create and share meaning.” And it is in this encoding and interpretation exercise that the intended meaning often gets lost.

I like to think of communication as a step by step process with potential safeguards at every step to make it effective:

I. Message Creation – Before you start, be clear  what exactly you want to communicate, why you want to say it, who your target audience is, what biases might they have which may affect their understanding of the message and, most important, what is the impact you hope this message will have on them.

II. Encoding – Always remember that everyone has their own filters, point of view, biases etc. and it’s not necessary their understanding of the subject is the same as yours. Ensure you are concise, precise and your choice of words is neutral and can only be understood in one manner not leaving too much to interpretation. Do not take anything about the listener for granted.

III. Transmission – For a speaker, the manner of transmission is equally important as the choice of words since the receivers mind would be processing both the verbal and non-verbal cues. Make eye contact, use your body to emphasize strong points, avoid distracting behaviours such as fiddling, wringing your hands, twirling the pen etc. Remember, if your body language is sending a different message than your words, the receivers sub-conscious would pick up the signals and send an alert so maintaining congruence is essential to ensure your message is received well.

For the listener, it is important to be an active listener and display attentiveness to the conversation by maintaining eye contact, nodding or sending other cues to show the speaker you are listening and, again, avoid distracting behaviours. Notice the choice of words as well as the emotional vibes of the speaker for better understanding.   Avoid traps such as tuning out because you are planning what you are going to say next instead of focusing on what is being said.

IV. Interpretation – As a receiver, be aware of your own filters and biases and make a conscious choice to reduce their influence. Focus on factual data such as choice of words and stated intention rather than pre-conceived ideas while decoding the message. Always remember to keep an open mind and try to understand from the other person’s perspective.

V. Checking back – This step is very important for both the listener and the speaker. The speaker should always prompt the listener to ask for clarifications and check if the message has been understood well. The listener should paraphrase and summarize what (s)he believes the speaker said and check if his/her understanding is correct.

Take responsibility for the success of any communication you participate in. If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you would have noticed my focus on the ‘self’ because that is the entity which is in our control and the first step towards any improvement always begins with looking inwards. So as a speaker or a listener, it’s your responsibility to ensure your conversations are effective.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

The Art of Communication

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