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We place high value on communication, and rightly so. As a species, the power to share information and ideas is one of our distinguishing characteristics. It isn’t necessarily the case though that because we can communicate we know how to do it effectively. A lot of the time we don’t.

One of the difficulties around communication is that we are given little in the way of practical advice on the topic. Even courses on communication tend to focus on content, and neglect method.

The Method

Calling anything ‘The Method’ makes it sound important, but that’s not the idea here, it’s just a subtitle. There are dozens of methods More, probably, if you consider that we design one for each new occasion.

What I mean by ‘communication’ here is verbal exchange between people, where one of them wants the other(s) to receive and acknowledge their message (for the NLP-ers, semiotics specialists and and purists I know that every message is comprised of more than just utterances, there are gestures and tonality for example).

It’s not just about noise, or giving out information, it’s about an exchange in which there is a sender of the message and a receiver. The sender expects and requires the receiver to get the message. It’s worth remembering that:

  • The first rule of effective communication is listening. Only after you have listened will you know how to respond. Effective listening also acknowledges the other person, builds rapport and tends to reduce threat.
  • If you want someone to ‘get’ your message you’d best know beforehand exactly what your message is: what do you want them to understand, and how do you want them to acknowledge it?
  • The more you want a particular response from the other person,  the greater the risk that the communication will fail. Listen for information, rather than to have your wishes or expectations confirmed.
  • All the other person can give you is information. For example, if they are screaming at you, as well as the words ‘I hate you’ (for example), they are telling you a lot about their likely emotional state. Read the information coming your way, rather than acting on the emotional response it triggers in you. Take their emotion as a measure of how important it is for them to be heard, understood and acknowledged.
  • Know when to end. When you have given your message, stop. Communication is often diluted by unnecessary blather; static detracts from the message.

If your message is important then the responsibility for understanding lies with you, the sender. If the listener doesn’t want to hear or is otherwise unavailable it is the sender’s job to make it possible for them to hear. Generally that means changing something about how/when/where the message is delivered. Listening and acknowledging are the keys, but most of us don’t listen as well as we could, and when a communication fails our get-out phrase is often “they weren’t listening”.

It takes two to tango but somebody has to lead, and that should be the person who most wants their message to be heard and understood.

See also

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