Do you ever feel like your communication is falling on deaf ears? People don’t seem to get what you are saying or perhaps you think that they are not listening.
There are a whole number of factors that come into the communication game that are important for leaders to know if they are going to get the response they want.
This can have an effect on motivation, instructions, teamwork and even safety. If people are not hearing the message clearly, then they will not be taking optimal action.
Let’s explore where communication can break-down:
1. Not Getting Attention First – If you are talking to someone and their attention is elsewhere, then it may take a second or two for them to tune into what is being said. We are bombarded with information from all 5 senses at all times, not to mention our inner thoughts and self-talk, and we automatically filter information by directing our attention either consciously or unconsciously.
If you start with an important piece of information, it might get missed and the person tuning in might lose the context of your message. They might even unconsciously fill in the blanks using their imagination….and get it wrong.
As a speaker and leader, be sure to get the attention of your listener first, before sharing the important stuff.
2. Not taking Responsibility – When you blame other people for not understanding you, then you take away your power to change things. I’m not saying the listener doesn’t play a part in mis-communication. What I am suggesting is for you to be open to being 100% responsible for getting your message across. If someone is not getting it – even when you have told someone ‘a thousand times’ – then perhaps you need to say it differently.
If you find a particular kind of person challenging to communicate with, see it as an opportunity to expand your communication and leadership skills. Be open to being the one that needs to change, rather than pointing the finger at others.
3. Not Speaking their Language – This is where it can get tricky….and I’m not talking about speaking English. There are different ways of processing information and if you assume everyone is the same as you, then you might have a problem. Ways we differ include:
- Preference for different senses – For example, I’m very visual and like to see instructions. Even if I’m given verbal instructions I’m creating a visual in my mind…. and I then rely on my visual memory. If I created a wrong visual memory, I make mistakes (or get lost if given directions) and it might seem to the person giving me instructions that I’m not listening. Other people prefer to get a feel for the information so that they can fully grasp it. They might need to be ‘shown’ how to do something, rather than just told.
- Different Motivations – Some people are motivated by possibilities for the future, others are motivated by the pain of their problems and the need for a solution. Daniel Pink talks about the value of intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation. Even if we are choosing to reward someone extrinsically – a promise of a new watch may not appeal to someone who places higher value on time with their family.
- Data & Statistics vs Application – you can lose your audience if you don’t give them what they are listening for. Some people need the firm data and they love the figures, whereas someone else just wants to know how to use the information or tool in their everyday life.
These are just some of the ways I’ve noticed communication breakdown from a speaker point of view, as well as within a team. It’s fascinating sometimes listening to two people argue and realize they are arguing apples vs oranges, and totally mad with each other and wondering why the other person doesn’t get it.
I’ll finish with a reference to Stephen R Covey and his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. Habit 5 is
Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
Good advice for leaders and speakers that want to be great communicators.
Please share your experiences with communication breakdowns in the comments below.