The 3-D of Effective Communication
How do we communicate now? Poorly. The majority of people communicate at a very shallow surface level. Studies have shown that most people communicate at 50% effectiveness -- even in a two-way communication. I venture to say that it is often less than that.
Just think how often you are frustrated by your boss, your peers, your spouse, your children... on a daily basis. How many times are you misunderstood? How many times do you have to explain that you didn't mean something the way it was perceived or received by your listener?
How many times at work have you been interrupted to never have had the chance to get back to that important discussion where you wanted to clear yourself of a misunderstanding? Often, even the explanation of a misunderstanding is misunderstood -- sometimes angrily, sometimes silently.
How many times have you kept silent rather than risking offending someone as you would genuinely try to find out where a misunderstanding came from, or try to explain your position.
How ought we to communicate? We have to communicate on a much deeper level. We must go beneath the surface which is where most people operate at now. There is a 3-D to communication amongst the words, the surface, and the lines we use.
This 3-Dimensional element is a critical part of communication. You've heard the expression "reading between the lines". This is only one dimension. There is also reading below the surface and reading behind the words.
When words are spoken, listen beyond the mere words -- where reality is found. A lot of people have a limited vocabulary and don't use the precise words they really mean. Studies have shown that one of the major causes for the aggression of violent or criminal people is the inability to express themselves, and consequently their being misunderstood, ignored or misjudged.
If you don't understand someone or if what he/she is saying doesn't make sense, ask questions -- or wait until the rest of the discussion clarifies itself. The best way to do this is to listen. Listening doesn't mean keeping quiet only.
Someone may say one thing while meaning another. Sometimes they may be trying to tell you something without taking the responsibility of having said it. Of course, there has to be a constructive reason to probe in these cases -- sometimes it's best to leave it alone, depending on the motives.
For instance, one may be trying to say that somebody in the office is having an affair. That, you're best to leave alone. Or one may be saying something that may indicate he/she will be leaving the company, which will create an opening. If you've been looking for that opening, you might want to start some smart probing in order to inform yourself about it before you lose the opportunity.
Watch for hints and cues along the discussion with people. That's “contextual listening”, looking at the surrounding context, making the effort to understand what the person is thinking, not just saying. Understand where the person speaking is coming from -- that's being aware of the context of the speaker. At times a person may be full of air, but at other times he/she may be telling a truth worth investigating or expanding. This can be at work as much as at home -- the principles of communication are the same anywhere.
Sometimes people say one thing because of something else -- what is that something else? If it's not clear, make the effort to understand where the person is going with what is being said; what is the ultimate result the person is trying to get at; if these results are not demonstrated during the communication, ask wise questions rather than respond negatively to something not understood. Give the conversation time to finish.
As you can see listening is active.
Speaking about a dissatisfied job at work, someone said, "After January 1st, there is nothing to hold me back." To an effective listener, this should have raised questions like, "Hold you back from what?" "Nothing" means there was something before January 1st -- what was that something? Why is it not there anymore? What is the person saying, or getting at, or trying to bring attention to? Often, we just leave it there and nod politely.
We say something the way we do because of our own contextual situation from our past experiences, the knowledge of our present or the hopes of our future. To listen (or receive) actively means to be aware that there is more than "meets the ear". This is where the Translating, Interpreting, Feedback, Understanding and Awareness responsibilities take place.
It is the responsibility of every communicator to find out when something is unclear. But, if the person being addressed only thinks of what he/she is going to say next, there will be no perception and no opportunity to respond in a connecting manner. This is where the cue will be given to the sender that the listener is not listening.
If the speaker expects the listener to say "yes" and the listener gives an irrelevant reply, then that's the tip-off that the listener's mind was on something else. How often does that happen to you? The speaker can then pick up the topic, the phrase or the question again and re-state it, for the satisfactory result.
This requires the on-going use of the 3-D tool which is "to read between the lines, read below the surface and read behind the words"./dmh
Diane M. Hoffmann is owner/manager of Hoffmann-Rondeau Communications, which offers ONline and OFFline business services and resources. She is the founder and creator of this web site http://business-resources-hrc.blogspot.com and author of several books, e-books and articles, including "Contextual Communication, Organization and Training". Copyright(c)2009-2011 Diane M. Hoffmann. You may reprint this article without any changes, making sure to include this bio.