All Aboard the Effective Communication Train

All Aboard the Effective Communication TrainEffective communication is more than just the words coming out of your mouth. 

We send messages to people in ways we may not even think of.  You must be cognoscente of the things you do, as the people around us are receiving messages through these non-verbal communication clues.

I’m sure you’ve already heard about standing with your arms crossed and how that can make people feel that you are closed off to them, but have you thought about these other forms of non-verbal communication?

For instance, if you are constantly shutting your door to your office, your colleagues may view this as you are not open to communication.  What about not speaking at all (silence)?  If you are not communicating at all, you may be coming across as disinterested.  The same feeling comes from your eyes focusing on someone or something else.  Lastly, the tone in your voice, your inflection and/or how quickly you are speaking are all forms of communication outside of the spoken word itself.

While we may view these non-verbal ways of communication as barriers, they are merely just factors we need to be aware of when we are trying to communicate with one another.

So what are barriers to communication we might face?

Clearly cultural differences create a barrier that might be hard to overcome.  Gender differences, speaking a different language and vocabulary, the actual words themselves can impact how effective our communication is with each other.  So what happens when we face one of these barriers?  How do we get the conversation “back on track”?

You must first recognize that you are off track.  This could possibly be the hardest step in the process.

Once you see that your communication has reached a barrier, it is time to follow a few steps.

Step 1:  Create a safe environment.  If the person(s) you are communicating with feel uncomfortable, it will be almost impossible to return to having an effective conversation.

Step 2:  Share with your colleague that you feel you are off track.

Step 3:  Don’t ignore having this conversation.  While you may consider it difficult, navigating these conversations can help to make others feel more comfortable.

Step 4:  Go back to the objective(s).  This step is pretty self-explanatory.

Step 5: Accept responsibility for what went wrong.  You have to understand that even if you feel like it was their filters that caused your communication train to derail, you played a factor too.  You have to prepare for these communication barriers and take responsibility for why the communication fails if you are not adequately prepared.

Step 6:  Be specific.  Now is not the time to “beat around the bush” so to speak.  If your train has already derailed, you have to commit to getting it back on track.  This means…be specific.

Step 7:  Don’t blame or throw stones.  Frankly, this will get you nowhere – fast!  People get defensive when they feel blamed and at that point, the conversation is over.

Step 8:  Deal with the root of the problem, not the symptom.  To tackle this step, you must first understand what I mean by the root of the problem versus the symptom.  For instance, if your colleague always takes a long time getting things done, you might assume that the root of the problem is time management for them.  Perhaps it is, but maybe it’s not.  Maybe this is just a symptom of the root problem, which is they actually are being given more work than one person can handle.

Step 9:  Watch for signs that you are not handling the conversation well.  Does the person appear to be defensive?  Do they not seem to understand?  Are they talking about something completely unrelated?  These, among many more, are signs that you might need to re-think what you are saying.

Step 10:  It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  I know you’ve heard this before.  This relates to the inflection we discussed earlier.  A whole lot of communication is received in the tone of voice, words used and body language we use when saying it.  Saying “I understand” means something entirely different if your arms are crossed and it’s spoken with an attitude in your voice than it would if you looked a person in the eye and sounded sincere.  In all relationships, communication is very much dependent on so many moving factors.  You must be careful about how you come across to someone.  There’s another example of those non-verbal communication cues.

George Bernard Shaw said, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

I will second that.  As I have tried to explain here, there are many factors that might leave us feeling like we communicated one message, while the receiver got something completely different.

  • Does this mean we still communicated?
  • Did they leave with the message right?
  • But was it the message you intended for them to leave with?

Effective communication is a complex formula that changes per situation and for each person, we talk with, but once we learn the basics we can factor this formula into any conversation.  Happy communicating!

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