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It’s Not The Words, It’s The Message

Thursday 1 May, 2014
When it comes to effective communication, who is really the judge? All too often managers think they are the best judge of how clear they are. Their message is completely obvious to them so why would it not be with any intended receiver? This thinking negatively impacts more organisations than you would imagine. Managers are often astonished when employees complain about a lack of or unclear communication. “But we talk to them all the time,” they say, and they are right but so are their employees. Managers may talk, but employees don’t hear.

It’s Not The Words, It’s The MessageThe key to being effective starts with the manager accepting the fact that clarity can only be measured by what is received not by what is delivered. Managers need to establish whether their communications are not just heard but understood, and if not, what the reason is for the gap because it is only through ‘understanding’ that we find the effectiveness that we seek.

So why is communication often heard but misunderstood, or missed altogether?

Four inhibitors to effective communication

Here are the four of the most frequent and most serious inhibitors of effective communication:

  1. Misreading emotional impacts

    Facts are heard, emotions are felt and when facts mix with emotions the opportunity for ‘misunderstandings’ are rampant. Often times the errors in corporate or individual leader communications don’t relate to factual accuracy. The miscommunications usually relate to issues around feeling the communication, its sincerity, its authenticity, its integrity, and it’s caring.

    Anybody can hear a communication: “We are going to merge with XYZ Company, but everyone’s job is safe”. In many situations that message won’t be embraced simply because of the emotional turmoil created by big change. To be effective in that communication the leader / organisation has to consider and convey an understanding and recognition of the potential emotions that employees might feel. Any communication needs to convey genuine emotion, not merely fact and consider the emotional filters that can get in the way of the intended message.

    It is difficult to inspire people with a memo or e-mail. Inspiring people and communicating feelings is easier face-to-face. Managers must have the courage to talk to their employees, not hide behind the cruel remoteness of their computer screens. Just a note to remember in our electronic message driven society, the time it takes to talk to one person, while much longer than it takes to send off a thousand emails, yields immeasurable efficiencies in the effectiveness of the message and its ultimate reception.
  2. Bias or misunderstood mental models

    What comes to mind when the biggest schmoozer in the company stops by your office to say hello or to ask if you need any help with that new project? Your immediate response to the friendly greeting is likely to be “I wonder what he wants from me now?” Even when people genuinely try to mend bridges and reconstruct broken relationships, if there is an existing bias or a lack of trust, everything they say is likely to be misconstrued as something that relates to their self-interest.

    Bias, mistrust, bad assumptions, etc… create unintended filters and sometimes entirely block communication. The result: employees are not listening or are hearing a message very different from the intended one.
  3. Failure to consider the receiver

    The most frequent barrier is simply not considering the audience. It is our nature to see the world through our own eyes, with our filters and bias’. Because of that we usually create our messages in a way that we would want the message communicated to us. The simple fact is we are not all the same. We each see the world differently, we each judge the world using ourselves as the standard for normalcy and because of that we probably communicate effectively with those who are like us, but likely miss a much larger group.

    Additionally, each of us have unique needs as it relates to the content of what is communicated to us.

    • Some need brevity or they get lost in the words and quit listening
    • Others need a personal connection
    • Others need lots of detail or a thorough explanation
    When we don’t get what we need from someone’s communication, we typically ignore it, misinterpret it or make assumptions to fill the gaps. Regardless of what we (the receivers) do, the message can become muddled or completely twisted. It is critical that a manager knows their tendencies and also works to meet the information needs of others when communicating even the simplest of messages.
  4. Out of balance talk / listen ratio

    Employees find it hard to listen with an open mind to managers who do not themselves listen. Listening skills are the first step in communication skills and are by far the more impactful of the skills. Significant resources are spent teaching us how to communicate but rarely how to listen. Listening requires character and some ethical stature. Listening requires humility and compassion. These skills come naturally to some, and with hard work to others. A note to remember for leaders is that an organisation that wishes to improve the way it communicates must first improve the way it listens.

    How a company communicates, how trusted its communication is and its capacity to inspire its people with its communication all contribute as much to its success as any other of its strategies. But effective communication is a function not only of managerial skill, but also of corporate and managerial character that is interestingly enough driven by effective communication.

Instinctively we know that leaders who have made an impact on us personally have been effective communicators. They practice solid communication skills both listening and expressing themselves effectively.

Someone once said that an idea is not worth anything unless it is communicated effectively. “Leaders are people who make ideas come alive through communication skills”.

Author Credits

Kevin Berchelmann, of Triangle Performance is described as a Human Capital Expert by The Harvard Business Press. Kevin helps new managers at private equity, Fortune 500 and small to medium sized businesses become top leaders that deliver results. Now you can get access to his FREE 'At C-Level', cutting edge newsletter at triangleperformance.com.
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