Where do misunderstandings come from? Why do our messages get distorted? Is it enough to “just say it” to be understood? These questions are key to understanding how complicated effective communication is and how much training it requires.
Received message vs sent message
To begin with, let's use the example from the book by Schulz Von Thun, a famous German communication / conflict expert and psychologist:
The husband sitting at the table asks: “What is this green stuff in the sauce?” The wife answers: “ Christ, if you don’t like it, go eat somewhere else”.
If we want to explain the occurred communication process, let’s take a look at the so-called Communication Square by the same author. According to this model, every message can be analyzed on 4 levels:
- The factual level - what are the facts?
- The appealing level - what does the speaker expect, what does he/she need?
- The relationship indicator - what does the speaker think about me, how does he/she treat me
- The self - revealing level - who is the speaker, what are his/her feelings?
Thinking one thing, saying another, what is understood is completely different too...
To make things even more complicated, the above-mentioned model works both ways, which means it applies both to the speaker and the listener. For effective communication to be possible it is necessary to have both agents act on the same level and understand each other in the same way.
Considering that our communication is much more than speaking and listening, it can be filled with many daily misunderstandings. Authentic communication requires not only a deep self-understanding but also an understanding of the other person’s point of view. If we take into consideration all our prejudices (yes, we all have them), our typical behaviors, unspoken emotions, all we say and don’t say, our sometimes false interpretations, it looks like we are bound to fail. It seems impossible to fully understand oneself, let alone the other person.
Yet, whether we like it or not, daily communication is part of our life: at home, at work, on the bus, or running errands (we’ve all heard jokes about the questionable efficiency of public institutions).
However, when I think of unfortunate communication, the first thing that comes to my mind is the famous phrase, so common in man-woman relationships: “Honey, we need to talk”.
Why is it that in a quarrel women will surely come up with the “You don’t understand me at all” argument, while the Alpha male will be at a total loss, thinking “What does she want again?”. And so on and so forth.
Reaching a factual understanding and agreement between two people brings to mind the mythological Sisyphus, who would push a heavy rock on a steep mountain over and over again. Both for him and for us, persistence and patience are indispensable to make our communication process more efficient.
How about communication at work?
Effective communication is one of the elements of a company’s success. The problem is that “good communication skills” is such an overused term that it is becoming hard to define what it really means. What it should mean, is an ability to present your message so that it is understood according to your intention. It grasps elements such as clear and short messages, attentive listening and asking the right questions.
Communication skills are necessary no matter what your job is or how long you’ve been with the company. Message distortions can greatly affect our efficiency, effectiveness, morale and last but not least - our relationship with others.
What are the typical obstacles to effective communication?
- Stress and uncontrollable emotions
- Lack of concentration
- Lack of coherence between our verbal and non-verbal message
- Negative body language and judgment
- Wrong word-choice making the message confusing
In consideration of these obstacles, it seems important to focus on the possible ways to overcome them and make our communication more effective. Check out the 5 tips below to avoid communication problems!
- Active listening– true and attentive. Focus on your partner and give them time - it is the most valuable thing you can give others. Henry David Thoreau, a 19th-century American writer once said: “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”
- Coherence and clarity - using a language that the listener can understand. Good communication is much more than saying the right thing - it also requires the message to be passed on in a clear and simple way.
- Asking questions – As the proverb says: “Better to ask your way than to go astray”. Sometimes it is better to change the affirmative mode to interrogative. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (open or closed) if you want to understand the message with precision. This will only show your interest in the topic.
- Kindness and empathy - a friendly tone, sincere smile, personal contact - these little things help to encourage others to open and frank communication. Make sure to sound authentic though! Remember that a conversation doesn’t limit itself to verbal signals and there are many other, non-verbal signals, sometimes sent unconsciously, that affect the way our message gets understood.
- Emotional Intelligence – embraces the ability to understand and manage your emotions for better communication. It consists of 4 elements:
- Self - awareness
- Self - management
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
As you can see, effective communication is not so much about speaking as it is about listening. Good listening skills help to understand the words and the transmitted information as well as the speaker’s emotions included in the message.
A better understanding of yourself and the other person increases our self and social awareness. Each of us has their own, natural behaviors in given situations. We tend to act instinctively, repeating the well-known patterns. Correct identification of those patterns and reactions will help us consciously fit the communication form to our partner’s needs and/or understand their communication style.
To understand your personality type, read another of my articles.
Until next time!