Underlying all forms of communication is the relationship between sender and receiver.
The communication process is relatively simple. First, the sender decides on the feeling, thought, or need they wish to send to the receiver.
They decide how they will send the message – this may be via speech, non-verbal communication such as body language or tone of voice, or by written language.
They then use it to communicate with the receiver, who needs to decode the sender’s message if they are to understand it.
However, the sender may be unclear on the message they want to transmit to the receiver, which could result in a misunderstanding.
It is important to reflect on what you want to say before you say it.
You also need to choose the right coding mechanism. For example, you would not use the same kind of vocabulary when speaking to your manager as you would when speaking to a young child.
Before you start speaking or typing, you need to consider the receiver’s education, emotional maturity, culture, background knowledge, personality, motivation or desires as they pertain to the situation, and what you want them to do as a result of receiving your message.
There are also potential problems that can arise on the receiver’s end. The most common is a simple lack of attention.
When listening to someone or reading a message, make it your sole focus. Remember, there is a difference between hearing and listening. The former is automatic, and the second is voluntary. Choose to listen!
The second potential problem is an inability to translate to decode the message.
As a receiver, you may not have the background knowledge or vocabulary required to appreciate what the sender is communicating.
If someone uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, always ask for clarification. Don’t be embarrassed.
No one can be expected to know every word in the English language. It is far better to feel awkward for a few seconds than risk making a serious mistake because you didn’t understand someone’s instructions.
Both the sender and receiver have a role to play in checking that the right message has been received and understood.
If you sense conflict on the horizon, take a proactive approach and say, “Let me check whether I understand this correctly. I think you are saying….” and then paraphrase what they have said in your own words.
This not only reassures the other person that you have been listening and are taking them seriously, but also that you have appreciated what you have been told.
Sometimes, it’s easy to erroneously interpret a benign message in a negative way.
Think about the broader context of the situation, and what you know about this person – is it likely that they would want to cause offence?
As a rule, you should safeguard your relationships by assuming the best – i.e. that the misunderstanding is due to an error in communication – rather than jumping to the conclusion that someone else wants to offend or upset you.
For example, if one of your colleagues stops you in the hall and tells you that they are looking forward to receiving the report you’ve been working on, you may choose to interpret it either as benign encouragement or a hint that you haven’t been working quickly enough.
If your colleague has a history of being passive-aggressive, you would be justified in thinking their intentions are malicious.
Otherwise, it would be best to assume that they are simply checking in with you and want to know how the project is progressing.
Monitor your body language and tone of voice. You will come across as more credible when you match your posture, gestures, facial expression and way of speaking to your message.
Depending on your mood and energy level, this might take some conscious effort. For example, you may feel like yawning because you are tired, but this would be interpreted by others as boredom – which is not a desirable outcome!
In this kind of situation, you should either suppress the urge to yawn, or explain that you are interested in the conversation but are also very tired.
Ultimately, the keys to good communication are a willingness to self-monitor, to remain open to what others have to say and to seek clarification when necessary.
Master these skills and you’ll soon earn a reputation as a great speaker and writer.