Communication is hard…but doesn’t have to be.
How keeping these simple things in mind can help others hear your voice.
“Well done is better than well said” — Benjamin Franklin
Communication is an active, fluid, and dynamic exchange.
The ability to properly, coherently, and intelligibly communicate is a skill. Like all skills, there are those who are perhaps born with the genetic predisposition which is then helped along by cultivation and practice.
But unlike the necessity to have a particular body structure to play professional sports, communication is a learned behavior and can be cultivated the good old fashioned way. Practice, practice, practice.
This means that proper communication is an action-craft. It requires foresight, grit, and patience. If you haven’t already heard the term, it is most certainly an instance in which you have to “get out of your own way”.
That being said, what do I do if I’m not one of these “born with it” people? Or what if I feel like I’ve got a knack for it but don’t really know where to go from here? Fear not! Let’s dive into some key concepts to get right so you can be well on your way to more excellent communication.
Things to keep in mind
- Proper communication is hard. So if it feels that way, congratulations, you’re aware of the task at hand. Awareness and setting realistic expectations about the undertaking of any task is the first great step toward achieving it. Remember the words of investor Charles Munger:
“There are the things you know, the things you know that you don’t know, and then the things you don’t know that you don’t know.”
2. Communication is inescapable. From the time we are born, we react to the world around us; to every sight, sound, temperature, and more. We stare up with those glassy eyes, cry out with our bellowing little lungs and begin to make contact immediately. We are ourselves in the world and then begin to take the world in. We learn how our first communication is nonverbal and emotional. Through our parents and school we learn to use these funny things called words and phrases only to realize later that they don’t quite always do it. But however short they fall, words and communication are here to stay. They pervade us, and are arguably one of the most significant keys to unlocking our minds in their internal dialogue.
3. Communication is irreversible. Remember that people will judge your behavior, not your intent. Think of your words (spoken behavior) as potential matter. Once created, they are physical things interacting with the world and cannot be taken back. You cannot unsay something hurtful. Writers are frequently met with the paradox of “word economy”, sometimes at the expense of their message. Think before your write/speak.
4. Communication is complicated. This is just a final word from our opening statement. It is important to acknowledge that communication is difficult due to the number of variables that go into doing it properly. For starters, there are the elementary questions presented in grade school: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? Then there are things like social cues, special interests, body language, and the list goes on. Proper communication used to be done by great people who had a sense of duty and accountability to those receiving their message. So take it easy on yourself along the process. Enjoy it, but take your time. If you’re seeking to become a better communicator in today’s “alternative factoid” world, you’re already one of my heroes.
Here we go
Scandinavian communication scholar Osmo Wiio suggests the following maxims to start:
First Problem: If communication can fail, it will.
First Principle: Beware of your communication with yourself and others
- Remember Murphy’s Law and approach with caution. That is not to say to feel like you must walk on eggshells or that you are beholden to the PC gods. Just be mindful. Take some time to read the news and hear your thoughts react inside your head. Take a notepad and follow the thoughts to their conclusion. Does it sound like you? Is it respectful? Considerate? You ARE allowed to have an opinion, but that opinion comes with accountability.
Second Problem: If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in the way that does the most harm.
Second Principle: Effectively use and interpret verbal messages.
- Key word: interpret. At the end of the day you are interpreting the message and part of communication is often the confirming that you did in fact hear/read what you thought you heard/read. Taking the time to confirm will show the other party your attention and reiterate the message to you, giving you more time to process and adapt.
Third Problem: There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant by your message.
Third Solution: Effectively use and interpret nonverbal messages.
- There is a significant amount of communication that is done via non-verbal cues. This is SO difficult to remember at times. It is also enough for another article in and of itself. For now just remember to look for the basic body language of tension and apprehension or relaxation and laughter when interpreting the message. DO NOT be afraid to ask for repetition or clarification. If there is an “expert” in the room, invite them to contribute and acknowledge their dedication to their subject matter. It shows grace and humility.
Fourth Problem: The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.
Fourth Solution: Listen and respond thoughtfully to others.
- Less is more. No, really. Despite what some communication “gurus” will tell you, it is not the quantity but the quality of your verbiage that will create a clean and clear message intelligible by all. This is not to say that you needn’t use words for clarity. By all means, if more words help, use them. But that is precisely what they are there for, to help, not to vomit. Communication should be minimalistic, clean, and elegant.
Bonus! Appropriately adapt messages to others.
- Finally, practice entertaining other ideas without feeling that they are a direct attack or offense to your own. Yes there are @$$holes out there, but by and large, people just want to be heard. Everyone just wants a voice and the opportunity to communicate. To speak their minds and feel that they are contributing to something larger than themselves. How then would you feel being met with aggression for every little thing you said? Most of us are trying. Act accordingly.
“The hallmark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain a thought without accepting it” — Aristotle
- Communications Principles for a Lifetime. Beebe, Beebe, Ivy. 2007. Pearson Publications