Tag Archives: business jargon

4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

Communication is a big deal.  And, getting it right is an ongoing challenge for everyone.  Maybe that’s why this post, originally written in 2011, has received the most visits of all other posts on this blog.  Its’ message provides only a small piece of the communication jigsaw puzzle but, you never know, it just might be a corner piece.

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I’m wondering how many words have actually been written about communication. Suffice it to say there have been a great many.    I suppose it is because we haven’t cracked it yet, this ability to convey messages so that what we say is heard in the way we mean it and conversely what we hear is received in the way it was meant.   Indeed, the road to clarity always seems to be under construction.

Even if we try to simplify our communication processes, barriers come up that can sabotage the message and render it ineffective by the time it gets to those who must act on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this.   Here are four that come to mind for me.

Cultural Barriers

There are many factors that make up what we refer to as “culture” but to me, cultural difference is about attitudes and beliefs that come from our personal environment and experience.  As such, two people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ.

Here is an example from a Scandinavian advertising campaign.  It was developed for the vacuum cleaner Manufacturer, Electrolux, then interpreted and  used, without modification, in the company’s American campaign.  It read, “Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux”  

What To Do

  • Consider the cultural makeup of the intended audience.
  • Seek to understand where there are differences.
  • Fashion the message to ensure that it says what you mean and also takes those differences into account.

Linguistic Barriers

Variance in expression or colloquialism is common even among those who speak the same language.

When my parents brought our family to Canada from England, there were a lot of expressions we used that were interpreted differently in our new country.  This once placed my mother in an embarrassing situation when she was sitting around a table with her co-workers one day discussing the time they each got up in the morning to get ready for work. When it came to my mother’s turn to speak, she said, “My husband knocks me up every morning at 7:30”.

It was only after the laughter had died down did someone explain to her the North American meaning associated with what she had just said.

What To Do

  • Minimize the use of slang and idioms when delivering the message
  • Keep the language used in the message simple and as free as possible from business speak or (dare I say it) sports metaphors.
  • Make clarity and simplicity the goal over showcasing linguistic ability.

Biases

We all have them.  Bias is, after all, shaped by our experiences and who we are.  It becomes an obstacle to effective communication though when we consciously or subconsciously choose to speak only to those who are more likely to understand and agree with us.  It’s natural.  But in leadership, it is also important to extend the reach of our message to those whose biases do not necessarily align with our own.

The workplace, for example, now employs more than one generation of people.  Each generation has its view of the world.  Each generation also has its challenges.  And yet, the messages you send must finds ways to reach and engage everyone to be effective.

What To Do

  • Acknowledge your own biases first
  • Look through the lens of those who are least likely to align with your views
  • Listen.
  • Fashion your message to include something that everyone can relate to.

Assumptions

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”  

Assumptions sabotage effective communication and have the potential to lead everyone down unintended paths.  For instance, you may assume that because people are nodding while you speak, they understand and agree with what you are saying. Similarly, if you invite questions about your message and get none, it would be easy to assume there are none.   The truth is, few people will risk the potential embarrassment of being the only one who doesn’t agree with or understand your message or doesn’t know what to ask.   To assume they do would be a mistake.

What to do

  • Work on the basis that all your assumptions could be false
  • Make your assumptions known to others to determine their validity
  • Anticipate questions and concerns that could come out of your message and bring them up to encourage conversation

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Communication barriers are always going to be with us because humans are complex beings. That’s what makes understanding and being understood such a challenge…and sometimes a great source of fun. Like this…

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

(Please note the video clip is used here for illustration purposes only and in no way meant to infringe on copyright)

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6 Comments

Filed under communication, diversity, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

4 Barriers to Effective Communication & What to Do About Them

I’m wondering how many words have actually been written about communication. Suffice it to say there have been a great many.    I suppose it is because we haven’t cracked it yet, this ability to convey messages so that what we say is heard in the way we mean it and conversely what we hear is received in the way it was meant.   Indeed, the road to clarity always seems to be under construction.

Even if we try to simplify our communication processes, barriers come up that can sabotage the message and render it ineffective by the time it gets to those who must act on it.  There are a lot of reasons for this.   Here are four that come to mind for me.

Cultural Barriers

There are many factors that make up what we refer to as “culture” but to me, cultural difference is about attitudes and beliefs that come from our personal environment and experience.  As such, two people could get the same message but interpret it in two entirely different ways simply because their frames of reference and language differ.

Here is an example from a Scandinavian advertising campaign.  It was developed for the vacuum cleaner Manufacturer, Electrolux, then interpreted and  used, without modification, in the company’s American campaign.  It read, “Nothing Sucks like an Electrolux”  

What To Do

  • Consider the cultural makeup of the intended audience.
  • Seek to understand where there are differences.
  • Fashion the message to ensure that it says what you mean and also takes those differences into account.

Linguistic Barriers

Variance in expression or colloquialism is common even among those who speak the same language.

When my parents brought our family to Canada from England, there were a lot of expressions we used that were interpreted differently in our new country.  This once placed my mother in an embarrassing situation when she was sitting around a table with her co-workers one day discussing the time they each got up in the morning to get ready for work. When it came to my mother’s turn to speak, she said, “My husband knocks me up every morning at 7:30”.

It was only after the laughter had died down did someone explain to her the North American meaning associated with what she had just said.

What To Do

  • Minimize the use of slang and idioms when delivering the message
  • Keep the language used in the message simple and as free as possible from business speak or (dare I say it) sports metaphors.
  • Make clarity and simplicity the goal over showcasing linguistic ability.

Biases

We all have them.  Bias is, after all, shaped by our experiences and who we are.  It becomes an obstacle to effective communication though when we consciously or subconsciously choose to speak only to those who are more likely to understand and agree with us.  It’s natural.  But in leadership, it is also important to extend the reach of our message to those whose biases do not necessarily align with our own.

The workplace, for example, now employs more than one generation of people.  Each generation has its view of the world.  Each generation also has its challenges.  And yet, the messages you send must finds ways to reach and engage everyone to be effective.

What To Do

  • Acknowledge your own biases first
  • Look through the lens of those who are least likely to align with your views
  • Listen.
  • Fashion your message to include something that everyone can relate to.

Assumptions

It was Oscar Wilde who said, “When you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”  

Assumptions sabotage effective communication and have the potential to lead everyone down unintended paths.  For instance, you may assume that because people are nodding while you speak, they understand and agree with what you are saying. Similarly, if you invite questions about your message and get none, it would be easy to assume there are none.   The truth is, few people will risk the potential embarrassment of being the only one who doesn’t agree with or understand your message or doesn’t know what to ask.   To assume they do would be a mistake.

What to do

  • Work on the basis that all your assumptions could be false
  • Make your assumptions known to others to determine their validity
  • Anticipate questions and concerns that could come out of your message and bring them up to encourage conversation

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Communication barriers are always going to be with us because humans are complex beings. I think that’s what makes it a challenge…and sometimes a great source of fun.  The following is a fine illustration of how easily we can get things wrong even in everyday conversation.

What do you think?

47 Comments

Filed under communication, diversity, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness, Uncategorized

Lack of Communication You Say?

upon a time, I worked with banking executives.  They were all very good, smart people with a wide range of talents, skills and personalities.  However, when faced with a problem that involved people this sentence always seemed to come up.

“It’s a lack of communication”

It was kind of a throwaway remark that, once said, was somehow lost among the myriad of other important issues that required attention.  And yet, quite often, the root of a problem in the organization could be found under the heading of Communication,

Actually, the phrase, lack of communication is a bit faulty because it suggests that communication in organizations doesn’t exist. It does exist.  It just has a nasty habit of being dysfunctional

So what, in the simplest terms is effective communication?  Well, to me,   communication is good when you tell me something, and I understand it in the way you meant it.

It doesn’t sound complicated but we all know that, in reality, it is easier to say than to do.

So what gets in the way?

Well, a lot of things really, but here are three that come to mind for me.

  • Hearing but not listening

Listening is an art that requires time and concentration.  Generally, human beings aren’t that good at it and that’s why so many of our messages get lost along the way.

Listening requires suspending our own egos, opinions and thoughts to make room for someone else’s.  For example if I am nodding and looking at you while you are speaking but thinking about what I’m going to say next, I’m not really listening.  And, if you are doing the same thing, the words serve only to take us both further away from the real message. In essence, it becomes a game of verbal badminton rather than a meaningful exchange of information.

Good listening involves asking questions for clarification and repeating what we hear so that the message we get matches the message being delivered. And, it requires us to give some time over to learning about the perspectives and views of others if we are actually going to get something of value out of it.

  • Ass-U-Me

Oscar Wilde said “Assume and you make an Ass out of U and Me”. There is an element of truth in this.  At the very least, making assumptions about others when you have an important message to convey can certainly get in the way of their getting the meaning you intend.

For instance if you assume people know things, or have experience with things, they do not, and the clarity of your message relies on such knowledge or experience, chances are, they won’t understand what you’re getting at.

When we are busy this can easily happen but taking the time to ask some fundamental questions that will establish where people are, in relation to the message you want to send, will save time in the long run and be less frustrating for all concerned.

  • The Dreaded “Business Speak”

This has got to be one of the biggest reasons that understanding is lost between people in organizations.  For some reason, when we enter the front door of business life, our ability to speak plainly walks out the back door.

Speaking and writing plainly does not suggest lack of intelligence or knowledge on the part of the communicator, quite the opposite.  Someone who is able to get a clear message across with minimal head scratching on the part of the recipient is very clever indeed.

So the next time you are tempted to say something like,

“Going forward, we will dialogue about the deliverables, ensure that we have buy-in from all stakeholders and then circle back to close the loop on the project”,

you might want to reconsider and say something like,

From now on, let’s talk more about what we have to produce; make sure all those affected by what we are doing, agree; and then meet again to talk about how we might finish the project.

Just for fun, here’s a link to MBA Jargon Watch 2.0 – Where business jargon goes to die.

Something to think about:

How well does your organization communicate to its employees?  its clients?

What is working?  What needs to be fixed?  How would you do it differently?

13 Comments

Filed under Building Relationships, communication, motivating & Inspiring