"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." --George Bernard Shaw
We've all read and listened to communication experts dole out advice on how to improve our communication skills. After all, good communication is the linchpin of every relationship.
In today's world, good communication is increasingly elusive. We rely on technology to convey our messages more than ever before, and we are receiving more messages from multiple sources than ever before.
Through the use of emoji's, pictures, audio, and video that we send over text, emails, podcasting, and social media platforms, there are so many opportunities to be misunderstood. On Facebook alone, 300 million photos are uploaded each day by the platform's 1.5 billion monthly active users.
We all know the bad communication habits that destroy our relationships (and we engage in them anyway):
- Personal criticism
What if you could do one thing to improve your communication and increase the odds that your message is getting through?
Here's the secret:
Practice responsible communication.
Do you currently practice "responsible communication?" Do you take responsibility for the way your communication lands?
Think of your communication activity as a game of basketball, and you are passing the ball to a teammate. In your game, you would be very thoughtful about how you threw the ball so that it landed exactly as you intended, and led to your desired outcome.
Are you this careful and this intentional with your communication? Do you take into consideration the receiver?
"Communication is all about what the receiver experiences and perceives, not what the sender intends," says communications expert Zemira Jones.
"Most people define communication as messages they send to other people. Effective communication is defined by the receiver. If your receiver fails to understand your message, it is your fault, not theirs," he says.
The quality of your communication completely depends on how your receiver receives it. Tony Robbins stresses the importance of adjusting your communications approach to meet the needs of the audience.
Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank believes that everyone must have a voice, and everyone deserves clarity. In an interview with Suzy Welch, he shared that he encourages all managers to ensure meeting attendees can state:
- "This is what I heard."
- "This is what I think."
- "This is what we're going to do."
Kevin explained, "It's about making sure people's voices are heard. Did I hear you? Did I understand your meaning? And then, clarity. My view on your opinion is the following, and therefore my actions will be the following. Everyone must have a voice, and everyone deserves clarity. Those things increase performance, satisfaction, and speed."
When we are attuned to how our audiences want to perceive information, the poor communication habits fall away. No one wants to be yelled at, nagged, threatened, blamed, or subjected to complaining.
It doesn't matter if you are speaking to a single person or an auditorium of attendees. By simply becoming cognizant of how recipients may interpret your message, you will become more attuned to their communication needs.
Your chances of communication success will increase significantly when you make your communication about them, instead of you.
For example, let's say you prefer very direct, borderline-abrupt communication. You want to receive feedback in a way that others may consider to be critical. You want to hear the no-filter-required version of feedback. However, you have a friend who prefers softer feedback. While she still wants the truth, she wants it delivered in a way that is non-confrontational.
If you choose to deliver your feedback to her using your preferred communication style, your friend is going to shut down. Not only will she fail to hear your message, she will likely perceive you as inconsiderate and insensitive.
An attuned, responsible communicator will take into consideration how the receiver will best absorb the message, and adjust accordingly.
There are other practices you can incorporate into your daily communication to help ensure a positive outcome. Working on your emotional intelligence, asking the right questions to frame the right conversation, and being fully present in a dialogue are additional ways to meaningfully connect.
When we are truly heard and understood, we open the door to deeper connection, greater trust, and lasting transformation for ourselves and our relationships. That total understanding starts with you, when you think before you speak.