Ever said something to your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, kids or, worse, client, that they completely misinterpreted? Or had them say something to you that you completely misunderstood? It’s like a smack in the face. And, it could have been avoided.
Communication is complex. It’s a multi-faceted art that takes practice, patience and more practice. Successfully communicating a thought to another person is much more than just saying something. It’s a combination of verbal and non-verbal communication, written expression and even the visual transfer of information (a picture is worth a thousand words), and each of these components has nuances and contextual aspects, not to mention cultural implications.
In order to make this simpler (and shorter), let’s examine only the verbal aspect of communication. There are three main components of effective verbal communication; the Delivery, the Reception and Assimilation of the message and the Response to the message.
1. The Delivery
How effectively we deliver the message is determined by three factors;
a) The volume, which is the relative loudness of your speech. This must be appropriate for the situation and the person to whom you’re speaking. It’s completely ineffective for me to try to have a quiet conversation with my 91 year old father since he requires hearing aids and even then, I have to speak loudly.
b) Projection, a technique that involves effective articulation, the intention to be heard and the emphasis placed on your message.
c) Variation, such as the pace or speed at which you speak, the inflections present in your conversation and the inclusion of pauses, which can be used to highlight a preceding statement or to gain attention before an important statement.
2. Reception and Assimilation of the Message, AKA Active Listening
Of course, the effectiveness of a person’s delivery is only as good as the ability and willingness of the other person to hear it. And here’s where the iceberg comes into play. Listening is not the same as hearing.
Listening is an active process in which a conscious decision is made to listen to and understand the message of the speaker. Actively listening to someone involves truly listening to what the other person is saying and asking questions to clarify what you think you heard and ensuring that your understanding is in line with the message they’re trying to convey. It includes paying attention to both the verbal message and the non-verbal cues.
Stephen Covey, in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” All too often we try to come up with a response before we truly understand the full message. We try to think of a way to prove that someone is wrong before completely listening to and trying to understand their side of a discussion. We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak.
Being able to effectively listen to another person involves a series of principles; things we need to do in order to allow the other person to fully communicate an idea and for us to completely understand it.
The first principle is to Pause and Listen. Don’t interrupt, talk over the other person or finish their sentences for them.
Next, Prepare Yourself to Listen. To be really effective in this, you have to relax and engage the speaker. Be open minded and really focus on what’s being said.
Listen for Ideas – Not Just Words. Grasp the concept of the whole message and avoid jumping to conclusions or assuming what it is that someone is saying. Trying to understand their point of view is central to success in this.
Be Objective. Don’t allow subjectivity or the person’s habits or mannerisms to distract you from hearing the message. Listen for facts.
Ask, Listen and Ask Again. Asking open ended questions and then listening to the response will allow you to gain a better understanding of the message. However, in order to better understand it you need to reiterate the message. Paraphrasing it will help clarify any ambiguous or unclear points. “So, what I’m hearing you say is…”
Ask for Confirmation. Once you’ve paraphrased and reiterated the message, it’s vital to then ensure that what you’ve understood their message to be is actually what they meant. Asking for confirmation will allow them to agree or to restate the message so you can better grasp what they mean. “OK. So what I’m hearing you say is that you’d like to …., is that right?”
3. The Response
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of the issues, there are some basic precepts to remember before responding.
First, Pause and Reflect. Pausing allows you to time to devise a clear well thought out response and decreases the chance of responding with something that may be regretted later.
Next, Acknowledge that you’ve heard the message and the other person’s issue. This can be as simple as nodding or saying OK.
When responding, avoid using antagonistic sentences, such as, “That doesn’t make sense,” or “You’re thinking is all wrong.” Make it a conversation, where all parties have an opportunity to review and discuss the issues, not a confrontation. Offer suggestions for resolution of the issues and allow the other person to offer counter-suggestions.
After responding, just as when you’ve reiterated their statements and asked for confirmation, ensure the other person understands what you’re saying, thereby ensuring your communication has been effectively transmitted. “Does that make sense?” “How do you feel about that?”
By better understanding and following the processes and steps involved in improving your communications skills, you’ll find it becomes easier to attain better results both in your everyday life and in your career and thereby avoid hitting the Communication Iceberg.
So, let me ask you, does that make sense? How do you feel about that?