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Communication: Why Is It So Challenging?

Recently, I’ve noticed that communication seems to be the most prevalent challenge for groups, organizations and systems of all kinds. Every week I’m fielding calls from potential clients, all wanting to know how to elevate communication – and mitigate the fallout of poor communication – within their teams.

The solution is actually surprisingly simple. Sometimes, folks don’t like to hear that – and it’s true. Let’s start at the beginning.

Conventional wisdom has us believe that there are two primary components to effective communication:  the giving of information and the receiving of that same information.   Giving can look like talking, writing or gesturing; receiving can look like hearing, reading or observing.  The process of giving and receiving information seems simple enough; too often, however, communication gets mangled.  Messages aren’t conveyed or received in the way that they’re intended. 

Why is that?

Often, blame is placed on the giver of information. My experience, however, is that any blame that’s at play is actually shared equally between giver and receiver. Because the issue isn’t that information wasn’t given or received; the issue is that information wasn’t CLARIFIED.

As a giver of information, you have a responsibility to ensure that your message is received the way you intended. This can be done by simply asking if the message was understood (although you’ll probably get a default “yes” whether it was understood or not – because nobody wants to be wrong!); or, you can ask for the receiver to share their understanding and measure that against your intent. When you do this, it’s imperative to be present and neutral in your tone – condescension never helps a communication exchange.

As a receiver of information, you bear equal responsibility for ensuring that you received the message as it was intended. If the giver of information doesn’t ask if you understand, there’s merit in you sharing your understanding, with a view to being clear. “So, here’s what I understand” can be a very effective approach. Rest assured, if you’ve got it wrong, this is the moment when you’ll receive correction, saving you the pitfalls of taking incorrect action.

I know; what I’m suggesting seems so mundane. And pedantic. And juvenile. Is such clarification really necessary? Who the heck has the time?

What I know for sure is this: investing the time upfront is a small price to pay in the interest of clear communication and effective team function. Because when you don’t invest the time in clarification, you’ll end up investing the time in correcting mistakes later – and sometimes, the price of correction at the end is far greater than the price of clarification at the outset.

Bottom-line: your team function will elevate in direct proportion to your team’s willingness to communicate with a view to building understanding, rather than just conveying information.

In order for communication to be effective, clarification has got to be part of the process. And everyone holds equal responsibility for ensuring that such clarification occurs.

Tracy Harvie