It should come as no surprise to anyone that communicating effectively with different types of people is hard work. Although we know this, too often we fail to pay enough attention to this fact. We talk too much in our own style, even when others don’t understand our language. We fail to listen enough, spending too much time talking. We do not ask enough questions, not questions that justify our own opinions, but questions to understand the opinions and positions of others.
We forget, if we ever even knew, that the purpose of communication is not to talk! Nor is the purpose of communication to listen, as important as listening is. The purpose of communication is also not to convince the other person that we are right. If we approach communication with any of these assumptions, we are not communicating effectively. If not these, then what is the purpose of communication?
The purpose of communication is to reach mutual understanding. Reaching mutual understanding does not include reaching agreement, although that may happen. Reaching mutual understanding is a higher level of communication than reaching agreement. Think about it. Even if the other person does not agree with us, if we both feel understood, we can build upon that, and may be able to find some areas upon which to agree.
Communicating effectively is much easier to talk about than to do. However, it is much easier to describe what ineffective communication looks like than to describe effective communication. This is in part due to the differences in personality that affect how we communicate. With that as a complicating factor, it is still important enough that we do our best. The following tips can be helpful.
When communicating, and before we speak, we should be very clear about our desired result of the communication in which we are about to engage. Whenever possible, our desired result of the communication should be the same as the purpose of communication, which is to reach mutual understanding. When we have this as our goal, we will be a better communicator.
Another desired result of communication can be to have a better relationship with the other person. Also, we may have as a goal to expert our position power. And, we may just be needing to clarify expectations. There are other possibilities as well. These mentioned have very different desired results, or goals, and they require different approaches to be successful.
Regardless of one’s desired result of the communication or the personality of the other person, avoid “why” questions, for they can make the other person feel the need to justify or defend. Use of “what” and “how” can result in same or similar information, without the risk of emotional feelings that can inhibit effective communication.
Be cognizant of the dominant communication style of the other person, especially related to whether the person is more of a direct or indirect communicator, and communicate in that style, regardless of your dominant style. The difference in these two styles is significant. Direct communicators use less words, the words are more definitive, and the talk is “bottom line” oriented. Indirect communicators use “qualifiers,” words that usually “soften” what is being said, which when heard by a direct communicator, can sound unclear, not definitive enough, and even, “wishy washy.”
Another important point is to listen well, and clarify what was heard. Listening well includes using all of our verbal and non verbal skills. If there is a disconnect between what one hears and what one sees, that should be addressed, in a non threatening manner.
These few points about communicating effectively, when used consistently, will make one a better communicator. It is important to remember, however, that we are only one part of the communication dynamic. We can employ all of these communication tips, and still fail to communicate effectively with some people. When that happens, it may be about them. We can only control what and how we communicate, not the other person. I saw a quote recently that reflects this.
“You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.”