George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I think he has a point. Families, friendships, businesses — even nations — live and grow on effective communication. So why is it so hard? And what can you do to be sure you communicate successfully?
A Curse on Effective Communication
You’ll often hear people say, “I’m not a great communicator but I do what I need to do. I’m good enough — I can talk to anybody for 15 minutes.”
Well, the reality is that attitude is the kiss of death — even a curse on effective communication. A lazy communicator is willing to take whatever level of communication skill they’ve attained and stay right there. If — and this is a big IF — everyone and everything around them stays the same — that approach might get them by for a short time.
But the fact is people around us — those we lead — the ones we most certainly need to effectively communicate with — are changing every day. And their expectations of us as effective communicators are based on the experiences they’ve had apart from us.
So if we’re not growing, advancing, preparing ourselves accordingly… If we’re satisfied with good enough then frankly, we’re going to be disappointed with the results of our communications. And the compounding consequence of ineffective communication piles up more problems each day we don’t get better.
Check Your Focus
So why is effective communication so hard in the workplace? In short, leaders sometimes get too focused on themselves instead of the people that they’re trying to communicate with.
This is especially true for frontline supervisors. For instance, when an employee starts a conversation with their supervisor and the supervisor spends more time talking about his or her own problems instead of the employee’s — that’s when a communication disconnect happens.
My professional career started in manufacturing. In settings like that there may be 500, 1000, multiple thousands of people under the same roof. All of them different: different ages, different experiences, different educational levels, and different expectations.
We can’t expect to be successful getting that many people to align with our way of communicating.
Effective Communication is Rigidly Flexible
So I like to think in terms of being “rigidly flexible” in my communication efforts. Rigidly flexible. I know what I need to communicate — I’m rigid on the message.
But I will be flexible in picking an approach to help me communicate that message effectively. Do some people need the message delivered face-to-face? I’ll choose that method for them. Would a story or example help someone else understand? I’ll try that.
Listen More, Talk Less, But Always Ask
But hands down, I’ve found the most effective communicators step out of themselves. They focus more on the needs, experiences and circumstances of others, rather than expecting other people to do that for them.
So if they’re talking to their spouse, their children, their friends, people in their organization or any other, those people are more successful because they listen more and talk — about themselves — less.
Listening more and talking less are important.
But here’s the bottom line. To ensure communication isn’t just an illusion, always ask. Sounds simple? Yes, but how many times do we make assumptions?
“Did I hear you say… — did I get that right?”
It’s an easy question and it works both ways. To ensure your message was heard correctly, ask for a simple restatement of what you said.
“I want to be sure I communicated this effectively — what did you hear me say?”
Stay “rigid” on the message. But if a clarification is needed, be flexible and choose a different method.
Give It a Try
Effective communication isn’t an illusion when we go beyond “good enough” and commit to being “rigidly flexible.” If you’re serious about communicating more effectively, here’s a challenge:
Spend one day, consciously asking, “Did I hear you say… — did I get that right?”
And be sure to let me know how it turns out for you. I’ll be eager to hear!