Too often, work -- and life -- resembles an Abbott and Costello routine. Humorously misinterpreted back-and-forths, leading to an avoidable crescendo of frustration, hair-pulling stress, and, a whole lot of mess.

When I'm able to take a step back and examine these moments, there's one theme that ties them all together: communication. Or, the lack of it.

George Bernard Shaw once quipped, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." In a world weighed down with a whole lot of noise, I can think of no better way to describe much of what we call "communication."

The painful truth is, there is so much of this noise that we stop listening. How can we absorb everything -- or know what's most important?

So instead, we wait just long enough in discourse -- digital or verbal -- to talk.

I'm not sure who originally said it, but as the oft-repeated quote goes, "The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply."

In the mire of WFH chaos, digital transformations, and the absence of in-person routines, this has become my norm. And while I thought much of my mounting stress over the last year or two could be tied directly to pandemic consequences, I think it's actually nested in this:

I've learned, as though by reflex, to communicate without listening while expecting others to listen to me.

Imagine the ripple effect: Frustration when I have something urgent to say and can't overcome the din to get it out; frustration when I don't feel heard; frustration from others who know I haven't really heard them.

And the solution is really very simple:

  1. Know your values and priorities. Spend your communication -- sharing meaningful insights and listening with intent -- only in spaces where these live.
  2. Listen to understand, don't just listen long enough to reply.

It's rather embarrassing how long it took me to realize these essential elements in my relationships. But the benefit is quick and clear. Already, I have been able to cut out true noise and spend my energies on communication that matters. My relationships have strengthened and my stress has ebbed.

If you have time this season -- especially with all the end-of-year frenzy this is so often unavoidable, I urge you to employ this solution.

As you do, please know: Not everyone's "noise" is the same, and not everyone will be keen on listening. Be kind regardless.