Communicate clearly

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise, that what you heard, is not what I meant”

One of the fundamental difficulties with communication is the many barriers that exist. Obvious barriers to good communication are such things as language, culture, being deaf, blind or dumb.

Much more important are the barriers we do not recognise so easily – age, perception, attitude, habit, education, jargon, to name but a few. Unfortunately, success in what we do depends upon successful communication, so we need to be aware of, and to address, the less recognisable barriers.

Meaning – words assume different meanings in different contexts. I used the word “dumb” above, which should have conveyed the message “unable to speak”. However, the word “dumb” is frequently used to indicate stupidity, which would not have been what I meant.

Education, or lack of it, also produce barriers. If you have become used to a certain style of speech, you may well find that others, from a different background and with a different education, will have difficulty in understanding what you are trying to convey. They may well understand the words, but not the meaning. An added difficulty is that many people feel embarrassed to say that they have not understood something ( a barrier that falls slowly with age!) and so go away with the wrong message.

We all know that some words are used differently, in different “English speaking” countries. The boot of a car is the trunk in the USA. I well remember an instruction to my children (girls) at school, prior to the nativity play, that they should come wearing white pants. Noone thought to check on the interpretation put on these words by the American child and her parents. Yes, you have guessed it; she turned up wearing white trousers! That occasion was amusing; there are situations where such a mistake could be disastrous.

Jargon is something we all pick up from the circles in which we work. Unfortunately, we need to communicate between groups and cannot do so if we are not privy to the “language” of the other groups. Some people like to show off their grasp of their subject by using the relevant jargon; but is does not improve their ability to communicate and they are in fact doing themselves a disservice. Others do it inadvertently, with the same unsatisfactory result.

A key determinant of a successful conversation is how the participants see each other and what their personal experience has told them about the subject in hand. If you don’t like or respect the person who is talking to you, you are unlikely to listen very carefully; you are more likely to see the negative points of their proposition; and the outcome will almost certainly be unsatisfactory. Similarly, if you have always done something a particular way, you are likely to be loathe to change, even if the reasons are valid and logical, because you are listening and making judgements against your own experience so far. Fear of change is another topic, but it has a lot to do with communication.

One of the most difficult things the older generation often finds is communicating with the next generation. The one thinks the other is old, stale, and set in his or her ways. The other thinks the one is immature and hasn’t had the experience to appreciate that what is being suggested, is right. They are probably both right and both wrong! Recognising that the barrier exists is a tremendous step towards resolving and overcoming it. The older generation is viewing everything against experience gained over the previous years. That is a polite way of saying that beliefs and attitudes have hardened. The younger generation – and things do change over the years – hasn’t the experience to make valued judgements, but is coming to the subject with a fresh mind, without preconceptions and may well have a valid point to make. Progress is only made by making the best out of the ideas, experience, fresh thinking and knowledge of both

What can we learn from this?

  1. That everything we do or say sends a message, even silence
  2. That we need to think about what we want to achieve by our communication, if it is to be successful
  3. That we need to understand the likely reaction of the recipient of our message, so that the dialogue can be adjusted to achieve the most positive, open and useful communication
  4. That jargon and clever language are likely to result in poor communication and a lessening of the respect in which the individual using the jargon is held.
  5. That, while we should not talk down or up to people, we should recognise who and what they are, in order to foresee any potential barriers to good communication.
  6. That communication needs to go in both directions and that you should seek feedback, to check that the message has been correctly received
  7. That knowing yourself and your attitudes will help you appreciate those of others, and therefore enable you to identify, in advance, the existence of any barriers to your communication.

If you think clearly, you are likely to communicate clearly!

^ page top