I have recently run a workshop on this topic and then realised I hadn’t written much about it.
It’s one of those things, we usually think about communication on two occasions – when it’s missing or when it goes wrong. Have you ever thought ‘oh, that was effective communication’? No, me neither. We might think of a situation and recognise that it went well, but we rarely think of it as successful communication.
Communication is such a crucial part of any relationship we have, whether private or in business. In fact, it is among the top 3 reasons for divorce.
In business, communication problems can lead to fatal mistakes, a decrease in profits, turnover of staff, and much more.
One of the issues, I believe, is that we’re expected to know how to do communication well, but most of us have not been taught how to. We even might not have learned what communication is.
We talk, we text, we email, we phone, we send voice and video messages, we post (mostly on social media instead of letters and postcards), all of which is communication.
AND we listen, watch, read, and receive.
Yes, communication has two sides. There is always a sender and more often than not a receiver.
“Communication is the process of exchanging information AND meaning”. (Lehman, 2012)
We need to understand that both sender and receiver attach meaning to everything we say, write, or do. Therefore, both sides are responsible for effective communication.
Have you ever heard or said ‘but I did not mean that’? I’m sure we all have.
The ingredients of communication – words, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, body language, proximity – have different meaning to different people.
Back to our sender and receiver. How communication works:
The sender encodes the message by selecting words and non-verbal signals, by organising the structure and attaching meaning, and then sends the information.
The receiver decodes the message by interpreting the information and its meaning.
Here are some of the reasons communication fails:
As you can see, both the sender and receiver have a significant influence on the success of communication. While the sender needs to give their best to encode efficiently, the receiver needs to ensure that they’re interpreting the message correctly. Through questions like ‘what do you mean by…?’ or ‘You want me to…, is that what you mean?’ we can avoid miscommunication at its core.
You might notice by now that communication consists of a variety of skills. Whether it is listening, body language, writing, speaking, presenting, persuading, debating, the most important prerequisite for effective communication is emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence consists of emotional self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. (Find more details here)
Besides our emotional state, it is crucial for communication to be aware of our communication style.
There are three styles of communication: Avoiding, Aggressive (active or passive), and Assertive.
No matter if we are the sender or the receiver of a message, our goal should be to move from either avoiding or aggressive to assertive.
The avoiding style is the most passive. It is not to mistake for avoiding conflict, which is another topic itself. Avoiding communication can, in fact, breed conflicts. It results in unresolved problems, needs and concerns, and can rob yourself and those around you from valuable information and meaning.
Aggressive communication can be active by using words, tone, body language etc. that usually attack others and create more problems than it solves.
Passive aggressiveness can potentially be even more harmful than active aggressiveness. It can be defined as “indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation” (lexico.com).
Assertiveness, on the other hand, is an active form of communication. It takes into account the needs of oneself and others. An assertive person is able to articulate clearly what they want or need in an unaggressive, calm and respectful manner. They are sensitive to the needs of others but are not controlled by them. They avoid sarcasm and frustration.
Our style of communication is mainly developed during our upbringing or through significant lessons in the early stages of our work life.
I used to avoid communication in certain settings because I thought I did not have much to say. Only over time, I learned that that was not the truth.
I learned to contribute in active ways and not passive-aggressively, and I have been developing an assertive style of communication by trial and error over the years. I learned to avoid unnecessary conflicts by NOT avoiding communicating and by asking for what I needed.
There is so much more to communication, but I hope these foundations will help you reflect on your own communication style, your skills and your emotional intelligence.
May you go and your team go BEYOND in your communication!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, comments or questions.
P.S. Would you like me to run a workshop on communication for you or help you individually to improve these skills?