George Bernard Shaw (pictured), famous playwright and Nobel Prize for Literature winner, once said, “The greatest problem with communication is the assumption that it has taken place.”
I was reflecting on a blog entry from the Harvard Business Review when I came across the quote above. As I thought deeper, I came to the conclusion that it’s not so much about an individual’s communication skills, or lack thereof, and neither is it about providing individuals with an increasing amount of communication skills training, say if you are in Corporate HR and trying to improve the way your organisation communicates in the workplace. To me, it is about each of us being unique individuals along with the values, habits and idiosyncracies we have picked up along the way.
As such, dealing with different individuals’ unique way of communicating can be a rather hairy thing to do. To make matters worse, in today’s world, communication is not limited to face-to-face contact time and very often, communication is instantaneous. These factors add to the burden of wading through extra obstacles and understanding new rules of engagement. How then do we navigate all these challenges while still effectively bringing across our message?
(If you’re looking for tips in removing barriers to communication, do read our other blog entry on “When the Messenger Kills the Message”.)
Here are 3 tips adapted from the blog I read, and integrated with what we now know about unique individual’s thinking and behavioral preferences:
To an analytical (blue) thinker, providing context might mean providing the reasons and objective behind the message. To a structural (green) thinker, providing context probably means giving a comprehensive background and history to the message being transmitted. To a social (red) thinker, it may require the sender to explain how this message affects the people who are reading it, and finally, to a conceptual (yellow) thinker, context might be that a purpose needs to be established so that ideas might be connected in the reader’s own mind (without being inundated with the details).
Allow for Dialogue
For people who are in the 1/3 of Expressiveness (quiet), asking questions in front of a group of people, especially in a work context, could be rather nerve-wrecking. For folks who are in the 1/3 of Assertiveness (peacekeepers), even if they do not agree with you, they may not necessarily voice their opinions. If your organization or team is made up of members with these behavioral preferences, it might be useful to speak with them individually or in smaller groups to solicit feedback. If people are not able to ask questions, regardless of whether it is due to corporate culture or individual preferences, people will have no opportunity to digest the message in a meaningful way. The crux of your message will not be absorbed.
Just like how you are a unique individual communicating with a unique lens, everyone listening to your message will also be unique individuals, absorbing with unique lenses. You will need to connect in – or touch base – with your audience in order to get a good sense of what was actually absorbed or transmitted by each of them. The terms “selective listening” or “lost in translation” come to mind, but if you understand how individuals are unique and also influenced by their values, habits and idiosyncrasies, then you are halfway there. How and what a person takes in of your message can vary from the intended, so doing due diligence can help to close that gap.
If you are a manager or work in a corporate organization, you would probably have experienced some of these situations first-hand. If so, do try some of the tips and work at understanding your team members as a first step in establishing good communication in the workplace which will lead to building a culture of trust.