Communication: Seeking To Understand and Striving to Be Understood

An elderly couple who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary was interviewed regarding the secret of their enduring relationship. Both were already hard of hearing:

emcee: Sir, what kept your marriage this long?
husband: Well, it’s not that complicated. In those 75 years of marriage, I always find her tried and true.
emcee: How about you, ma’am? What do you think kept you together this long
wife: What did he say?
emcee: Your husband said he finds you tried and true.
wife: Come again, please. What did he say?
emcee: He said he finds you tried and true!
wife (looking sternly at the husband)Me, too, I’m tired of you!!

There goes 75 years of marriage. Ended by two innocent words warped at the receiving end. We call it miscommunication. Miscommunications are good sources of jokes  but through them gossips and false information evolve and caused some of the world’s worst disaster and mishaps in history.

A Bible narrative recognises the power of communication as it depicts God scattering the people of Babel as they are building a tower they intend to reach the heavens. Here God is recorded as saying,“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Some scholars call this narrative a myth but studies on communication evolution revealed that groups of people who learned early how to communicate and use a common language were the first to evolve into a community where they learned to cooperate, create a system to protect their people, invent tools, and develop social life.

So, what is communication? Over many years, several versions of its definition have come up and one of it simplest definitions is: It is the process of generating meaning by sending and receiving verbal and nonverbal symbols and signs that are influenced by multiple contexts

(Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies).

In an individual, the competency to communicate is a learned capability based on emotional intelligence. In the framework developed by Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author, it works in synergy with other competencies that belong to the cluster of Relationship Management which is a social skill that demonstrates adeptness in deep and open listening and proficiency in sending clear, credible, convincing messages in various contexts. People with this competence

  • are effective in give-and-take, registering emotional cues in attuning their message.
  • deal with difficult issues straightforwardly.
  • listen well, seek mutual understanding, and welcome sharing of information fully.
  • foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good.
  • communicate clearly and in a logical, organised manner.
  • speak effectively in front of large groups.
  • listen to feedback without becoming defensive.

Here’s a checklist of behaviours and attitudes that characterise people who rank low in this competency. As you go through the list take time to assess yourself, to listen to your inner self, and to ponder on the current status of your relationships.

  • fail to listen, interrupt, and find fault with what others say
  • are difficult to connect with; are unapproachable.
  • others may prefer to avoid bringing them tough issues or bad news
  • tend to communicate with ridicule, threats or emotional outbursts
  • lack consideration and tact when expressing opinions
  • fail to ask others for their opinions
  • are unwilling to change their opinions
  • may express their ideas or opinions in a dogmatic manner
  • are unable to establish rapport with others

Communication is a complex process. Aside from verbal communication we need to consider the non-verbal communication aspects.  We also need to factor in our listening skills, and our the sensitivity to cultural or contextual differences.

But despite the complexity, it is not impossible even for those who are lacking in this competency to develop themselves or even excel in this area. The requirements are from within us: a) a serious intention to improve in this competency b) self-awareness of how we currently fare in this competency. Once we meet these requirements we are off to a good start with the following development tips:

  • Approach people in a positive manner; be open to and verbally welcome their ideas and opinions
  • Build bridges of understanding and cooperation; seek out common interests and goals and speak to those.
  • Listen for and customise your communication to the needs of other individuals (i.e., if they need data to make a decision, let them take the time they need to become comfortable with the data; if they need to be acknowledged, recognise them).
  • Ask a lot of open-ended, unbiased, neutral questions that lead the conversation in a positive direction.
  • Seek first to understand what the other person is saying; ask questions to clarify; repeat back and paraphrase what you think you heard; convey that you have heard them (they won’t hear you until you hear them).
  • Maintain composure; keep your communication constructive.
  • Convey your intent to help and support and not diminish, put down or make the other person wrong.
  • Communicate clearly and completely; plan your messages ahead of time to ensure the best delivery and reception.
  • Express appreciation often and with genuine sincerity.

Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life. — Brian Tracy

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. — George Bernard Shaw

Are you struggling in this area? If you think that your weakness in this competency is preventing you from having breakthroughs in your life our team of experts can help. Contact us today.