Poorly. The majority of people communicate at a very shallow surface level. And that includes those in senior management. 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 or received with arguments -- 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.
In the national bestseller "That's not what I meant!" by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., the author speaks of the linguistics in communication. "Linguistics", she says, "is the academic discipline devoted to understanding how language works. Relationships are made, maintained and broken through talk". She explains how people learn to use language, as they grow up, with different ethnic, religious or class backgrounds, in different parts of the country, even as different genders (male and female have different ways of talking or communicating).
The novelist E. M. Forster said this: "a pause in the wrong place, an intonation misunderstood, and a whole conversation went awry."
In a telephone call to an associate, one day, I left a message on his answering machine to call me back. Somehow, he had been given a phone number which was a business line used for a specific on-going project, located in another part of the building; I had subsequently explained to him that he should not use this number and gave him the one he should call.
However on this particular day, when I called him, I was temporarily working from the first number location and left the message on the tape to call me on that number, at that particular time. When he called me back a few moments later, he called on the other line which was in the other location. What did that tell me? That he did not "listen" to the message on his answering machine. (Just like many don't read their memos or emails).
This was indeed confirmed later. But, I could have "assumed" he did not listen properly. If I hadn't found it important enough to pursue the incident in order to clarify, I might have wrongly perceived this of him. It could have been that he was not careless at all, but that the tape on the answering machine broke (this was in the older days) or ended before the explanation about the phone number came on. This would have disclosed my wrong assumption, which would have meant that if I don't know something, I should not assume.
Of course we don't always deduce and analyze our conversations in such details during our daily activities. Who has the time? However being aware of these possibilities, and including this awareness in our philosophical way of thinking, (thinking before receiving) will help us operate in a realm of understanding at all times -- a second nature as it were.