Communication breaks down all the time. It could come from our strange language, where a fat chance and a slim chance mean the same thing.
It could come from an inability to listen and comprehend. The point is, communication can be problematic. The health of any organisation is directly related to the quality of the communication in that organisation.
You could have really nice hardworking people in your organisation, a great product, enthusiastic customers, and creative marketing, but if your communication stinks, your business is going to die.
By contrast, you can make your communication come alive by using a few time-tested techniques that I strongly recommend.
1. Eliminate the non-discussables
How open is the communication in your organisation? Or in your key relationships?
The health of any organisation, or any relationship, is inversely proportional to the number of non-discussables. The fewer the non-discussables, the healthier you are. And the more non-discussables you have, the sicker you are.
John Berryman, the poet laureate, said essentially the same thing. He said, "We are as sick as we are secret". In other words, you can't have a healthy relationship, team, or organisation if your communication isn't open, honest and frequent.
Go ahead and rate your organisation on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is 'totally closed and filled with secrets' and 10 is 'everything is out in the open'. If you’re anything less than an 8, figure out a step you can take to create more openness in the communication.
2. Re-emphasise face-to-face communication
When the pandemic shut down face-to-face communication many workers, it also seemed to bring a number of disheartening side effects. Spikes in mental illness, learning losses, suicide, and violence cropped up among many populations who were not hardwired for isolation. They were made for face-to-face communication.
Of course we live in an electronic age. Virtual communication is here to stay in some form but I would caution you against letting that become the only way communication takes place, for two reasons.
First, you get more communication breakdowns with virtual communication. After all, the total meaning of a message comes from both the verbal and the nonverbal cues, some of which are less detectable when you’re not in the presence of the other person.
Second, you get less bonding with virtual communication. It’s very tempting to use only virtual communication because its quick, easy, and cheap. But if you want to build a stronger team, create and maintain a particular culture, or deepen a relationship, you’ve got to be face-to-face with the other people once in a while. That’s how we’re made.
Even the broadcast industry has come to recognise that. Paula Kerger, a television network executive, says, "The next generation of leaders needs to be encouraged to work with colleagues face-to-face and not hide behind e-mails".
Take a look at how you can add a bit more face-to-face communication to your workplace or even on the home front where too many devices are taking away too much of your focus.
3. Use lots of eye contact
Different cultures place different emphases on 'proper' eye contact, but in most business circles, eye contact is important and valued. As the old expression goes, we trust people who 'look us in the eye'.
So you wonder, where exactly should you look? Look people in the eye... not at their shoulder, chest, hips, or around their head to see who else is in the room. Or if it's a bit more comfortable, look at the bridge of their nose.
When you meet or greet people, make a special effort to look them in the eye. When they come into your office or place of business, try to establish eye contact, even if you're talking with someone else in person or you’re on the phone. Make a concerted effort to look people in the eye when you shake their hand.
When you're speaking to a group, look at individuals in their eyes, and hold their eye contact for two seconds. Your eye contact will appear much more genuine than flitting your eyes across the group from side to side.
4. Clarify, clarify, clarify
You just can't assume the other person understands you. Every word in our language has several different definitions in the dictionary. So the chances of the other person picking the same definition for every word in your conversation are about nil. It's not going to happen.
To avoid lots of communication misunderstandings, if you're the speaker, ask the other person to tell you what he heard you say in their own words. You'll be able to spot almost instantly whether or not you're on the same page.
Likewise, if you're the listener, you have to clarify what you are hearing. Say something like, "If I hear you correctly.... or .. what I think you're saying is... or... are you trying to say?" It will tip off the speaker as to whether or not they're getting through.
What is the bottom line? Don't ever assume you totally understand what people are talking about. In fact, you'd be better off assuming you don't know what they're talking about. Take nothing for granted.