There are many points of view around the concept of communication, the effectiveness of communication and frequency of communication. Lately I find myself observing how various individuals communicate across differing levels of an organisation. I have witnessed very poor communication and very articulate levels of communication, both of which have resulted in their message not getting through. The age old adage of communication being a "2 way street" is so true, however, do we really understand what that means from the perspective of the communicator vs the recipient of the communication? I was in a cafe' with my wife and enjoying a nice short Macchiato and couldn't help but overhear 2 women having a conversation about a situation at one of their work places. Now I wasn't trying to listen in on their conversation, however, with the tables in close proximity of each other, it was difficult not to. The conversation went along the lines of one of these women being on the receiving end of what appeared to be some ineffective communication/feedback on something that this person was either involved with or something that was said or done. It was clear that this individual did not have a nice word about both the communicator and the content of the communication that was directed at her at the time.
You'll be happy to know that I did mind my own business and continued to enjoy my Macchiato, as I know that I would be annoyed if a total stranger interfered in a conversation I was having with a friend or with family or even a work colleague. So what was going through my mind as I was exposed to this communication? Well I was pondering the possible scenarios that the woman who was describing the situation to her friend (or work colleague, I didn't ask) and came to the conclusion that there were possibly 2 outcomes:
1) The communication this person received was inappropriate and whilst the intended message was to provide feedback on her actions or what she may have said, probably wasn't delivered in the right tone, the right time frame or maybe even not warranted at all.
2) The communication was delivered in the appropriate fashion, in the correct way and in the right tone with the best intentions, however, this particular person wasn't the sort of person who would take any form of feedback well and may have been offended regardless of the way the other person delivered their message to this individual.
I would imagine this type of situation occurs constantly in all types of organisations and dare I say it, in all types of personal relationships. It can be a daunting experience for the person delivering a message or feedback or just trying to assist a peer, if after a period of time of their conversation, they discover that in fact the recipient of the conversation/message was offended or concerned with the level of communication they had received or even completely misinterpreted what was discussed. So what elements could cause communication between individuals to fail? Well there could be many contributing factors, all of which could fall on both the people involved in the communication and the environment they find themselves in. I'd like to focus on the individuals as I believe they possess the key to ensuring successful communication takes place. So what are some of the contributing factors that affect people in a manner that renders them incapable of delivering effective communication?
Personal Circumstances - We each of us lead varying lives and with that comes a whole lot of behaviours/thoughts and personal experiences that occupy the mind during the course of the day. Depending on what sort of life you lead can ultimately dictate how receptive you are to the various levels of communication you receive or even how effective you are in delivering communication in your working environment. The key here is to know your people and what is important to them and what impact if any their level of communication or level of receiving communication has during your interactions with them. Be receptive to the body language during a conversation or presentation, particularly if it isn't consistent with what has been demonstrated in the past. Having an understanding of the people you work with will assist greatly in how effective you communicate with them as well as how effective you receive their communications.
Put Yourself in Someone Else's Shoes - I love this behavioural attribute as it is so simple and yet so complex an attribute for individuals to embrace. Quite often we stereotype individuals and assume they have an ulterior motive when it comes to the way they communicate, particularly if it's via email or social media. If we all had the patience, maturity and not allow our egos to get involved, we could actually put ourselves in the shoes of the person communicating and try to understand the why, how and what of their communication. Applying this skill on a consistent basis would enhance communication skills as well as build great relationships between colleagues within a working environment, not to mention foster strong effective teamwork skills to achieve objectives. This attribute is even more critical these days with organisations espousing a strong desire for a diverse & inclusive work force.
Check For Understanding & Clarity - How often have you either verbally communicated or sent an email to someone with the best intentions only to be horrified that they have been offended or angered by your communication. These days it is a risk to assume that what you are transferring across to another person either verbally or via email will be taken in the context that is intended. You need to take steps in ensuring that what you wish to communicate is delivered with the correct intent and have no room for misinterpretation, especially if it is via email. What has worked for me in the past has been seeking clarity with an individual or individuals post a discussion to ensure that my intent was achieved and that any ambiguity is discussed and fully understood. Where emails are utilised, it's always best to frame a draft email (especially if it's a sensitive subject) and make sure you follow up with the recipients to ensure full comprehension of the subject matter has been successful.
Select The Correct Vehicle For Communicating - As everyone knows there are a myriad of ways to communicate with an individual or individuals, all of which can be successful if used at the appropriate time and for the appropriate purpose. For example, delivering a significant change management initiative for the first time to a key department via social media would be considered to be a massive failure and just wouldn't happen. Success in this instance would be to clarify the change, develop a communication plan which consists of presentations in conjunction with face to face communication involving key stakeholders, allowing them to participate in a Q&A forum to enable them to express their views/concerns then follow up with a further meeting to check for understanding and remove any ambiguities that may have eventuated. Depending on what the subject matter is, you need to allow time for individuals to digest what has been communicated, particularly if it's a change of some description. The above example is just that, an example and I would not even try to advocate how organisations should go about their method of selecting the appropriate vehicles of communication as most if not all organisations have their own intricate processes for communicating change/significant information which I would assume works well for that particular organisation. I would imagine that it would be up to the individual who is tasked to communicate certain key pieces of information to correctly select the appropriate method of communicating the necessary information by utilising their own flair/style that will provide them with success in ensuring the key message is effectively delivered and understood. The same level of responsibility also falls on the recipient of the information to seek clarity in correctly understanding the intent of the communication.
Body Language & Tone Of Communication - Individuals have their own style in the way they communicate which can include certain idiosyncrasies that they possess. Some will add humour to a conversation to lighten the mood, others will ultimately present a serious demeanour to a conversation and others will deliver a consistent mono-tone which may put others to sleep regardless of what they are conversing about. Again, it's understanding the individual and their character/behavioural profile, the why, what & how they choose to communicate or like to receive communication as well as the role they have in an organisation. Understanding the various aspects of an individual's make-up can serve you well when it comes down to successful communication and having that emotional intelligence to size up how you will deliver communication or choose to receive communication from another individual based on historical understanding of their behaviours & idiosyncrasies. It's always best that should you not know the individual well that you follow up on what is being said and the intent of the conversation or email either from a communicator perspective or the recipient thereof.
The above 5 contributing factors are but a few that I have identified and are just a guide and examples of how communication can be affected either positively or negatively and we should pay attention to the signals and not take for granted how some attributes influence a successful communicatory outcome. Effective communication is an art and a skill which takes time and effort to develop and like with most developmental outcomes, should never cease to improve. I was once told that feedback regardless of it being constructive or not is a gift and I totally agree with this concept, however, delivery of feedback is absolutely key and gifts with the best intentions can sometimes not be appreciated.