Everyone knows that there are two primary components to effective communication: the giving of information and the receiving of that same information. In many exchanges, these components take the form of talking (giving) and listening (receiving). Written exchanges are also part of the picture, with the actual writing being the “giving” component and reading being the “receiving” end of the deal. The process seems simple enough and yet, so often, communication gets mangled. Messages aren’t conveyed or received in the way that they’re intended. Why is that?
In answer to that question, my focus right now is on the receiver. Recently, I had the opportunity to guide a client through an exercise on beliefs and self-talk. The exercise required the client to complete a series of sentences, based on her formative years, and each designed to quickly discover thoughts that may be governing current choices. These sentences included the following, amongst several others:
- “When I was a child, my mother thought I was…”
- “When I was a child, my father thought I was…”
- “When I was a child, I learned that…”
The imperative part was that each sentence be completed as quickly as possible, without a great deal of forethought. Essentially, you put down the first answer that comes to mind. Given that I like to know what my clients are experiencing, I chose to do the exercise for myself prior to our coaching session. The result was revealing, to say the least.
For each statement – and without sharing the specifics of my answers – I came up with an ending that was anything but self-esteem building. Phrases that would have me believe that my family and teachers were belittling, or unsupportive is what first came through my pen, and what I wrote down. As I looked at the answers, I was dumfounded. Because I truly cannot recall any of the adults in my life ever uttering those words. They always encouraged and supported me. What was actually said to me growing up were sentences like, “You can do anything you put your mind to” or “You are very smart”. Yes, all of these people had critical feedback for me too from time to time; however, I knew then just as I know now that these were always intended to help me grow and evolve into my best self, even when I didn’t like what I was being told. So how did I come up with the strange ideas that I saw in the exercise above?
While I don’t have a definitive answer – yet—what I’m slowly realizing is that there is often a difference between what is said, and what is actually heard. You see, everyone has filters. Your filters are created based on personal experiences and your own belief systems. Because of these filters, messages can get warped and lost in translation. And, when you don’t take the time to clarify the message that you’ve received, to be really clear that you understand what you’re being told, you can almost be guaranteed that the message you hear will not be the one that was delivered. The result can be a set of beliefs that live in the unconscious and play out in your life in a way that doesn’t serve you. So, what do you do about it?
While there are many cases in which you can’t determine what experiences you have in life, you actually can – very deliberately and consciously – decide what messages you will create as a result of these experiences. In other words, whatever you are told, whatever you experience, whatever you deal with, you get to decide in the end how you will integrate that particular message or experience and what you will hold true as a result. Your opportunity lies in identifying what was said and then consciously deciding how you will hold this message going forward. In order to do this, it behooves you at all times to hold the question of “what is truly being said” and also to hold for yourself the question of “is this message what I want to hold”. If it is, great. If it isn’t, let it go and replace it with a message that aligns for you in a way that will enrich your life and move you forward.
It can be really easy to put the responsibility for clear communication on the shoulders of the person delivering the message. My belief, however, is that as the receiver you have just as much responsibility – perhaps more – of making sure that you are truly getting what is being conveyed. Stop assuming that you know with 100% certainty what is being conveyed; take the time to ask – at least once and as often as necessary – what was actually meant. Doing so ensures that any belief you end up creating is rooted in an accurately received message and not one that was twisted out of shape in any way.
Before I wrap this article up, let me say this: you’ve likely got a kazillion (more or less) messages that you are holding on to unconsciously. These unconscious messages – even if they are positive ones – will serve you better if you make yourself aware of them. So start to ask yourself what messages you heard growing up, recognizing that what you heard or took in may not actually be what was said.
Bottom-line: in order to be an effective communicator, you’ve got to hear messages as they’re intended as much as you’ve got to deliver information with clarity. The way to facilitate this process is to continually ask for clarification. It may take time, but it is time well invested, because when you hear the message as it’s meant to be heard, you can act as you are truly meant to act.