Tag Archives: lack of communication

Listen Here!

listening“Pardon?” I say.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Well,” he says.

“That’s because you weren’t listening.”

I expect that, for most of us, this is a pretty common conversation. And yet, if we were to ask any number of people to rate the significance of listening in being a good leader; building good relationships; or doing good business, the ability to listen well would be among the most important.

So why are we not better at doing it?

Well for one thing, there is a possibility that we assume, because we come equipped with two ears, listening is something that will naturally follow. However, while hearing may come naturally, listening certainly does not. And yet, little attention has been paid to teaching us how to use our ears for the purposes of actually absorbing what is being said.

Think about it. When we were little children we were taught to read and write. In high school we might have learned how to debate effectively or write a coherent essay. And, Later on, we might have had instruction on effective presentation techniques, or business writing. We recognize these as developed skills. In comparison, there is little such instruction on the topic of listening because we tend to believe that hearing and listening are synonymous.

The truth is, most people can hear. Listening on the other hand involves engaging, not only the ears, but also the brain, in the process of receiving new information and assimilating it in the way in which it was intended.  Fewer people are good at that.

So, the question is, how do we get to a place where we  listen more?

I have a few thoughts on that and here they are:

1. Make Understanding the Goal

Just to be clear, understanding is not the same as agreeing. Often, when someone is speaking, we allow our own values and judgments to intervene prematurely and evaluate. Because of this (and just as often) we fail to understand what is really being said. Making understanding the goal means getting past our own biases and making space for someone else’s perspective.

2. Be Quiet

This seems simple enough. But is requires some practice. It’s hard to take in what someone is saying if we have crowded our heads with inner chatter; are waiting for our turn to speak; or thinking about what we are going to have for dinner. Taking a little time to achieve some sense of quiet and focus on the person talking will help to achieve the understanding we need to engage in a meaningful exchange of information or opinion.

3. Use the Inquiring Mind

Let’s face it. Even with the best of intentions, we aren’t always going to get to the intended meaning of every conversation easily. And, when we don’t, it is tempting to pretend we do if only to advance the conversation and move onto something else. But of course doing that takes us further away from the goal. So it’s not something we would want to make a habit of. Asking questions for clarity however, is a great habit to get into. It lets people know we are listening and it keeps the conversation on the right track too.

4. Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another good habit to develop when listening to someone speak. This, by the way, is not about repeating word for word what we hear. Instead, paraphrasing asks us to summarize in our own words what we have heard, without judgment. If we are able to repeat what we understand the speaker to have said and the speaker confirms it as being what he meant, we have listened successfully.

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

 

Note: this is a refreshed version of a post originally written in 2010

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development

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

====================================================

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

Communication: Four Occasions When It’s Best to Keep Quiet

Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up”.

I think he has a point. Rarely though, do we consider that effective communication also means keeping quiet.   And yet, nothing can be more effective in reaching understanding than a well-placed pause, a time when we step back and listen, not only to others but also to ourselves.

It’s a discipline I think all leaders need to develop.  But first we have to be able to readily recognize when we are talking too much and listening too little and, as a result, eroding the depth and importance of our conversations.

So when might that happen to you? Well, I can think of a few occasions when it might and here they are:

When you’re angry ~(Subtext: I’m mad so I’m going to vent all over you so that I can feel better).

Anger sometimes compels us to put the mouth in gear before the brain has had time to process what’s going on. And that can make a bad situation worse.

Being on the receiving end of someone’s flare-up is also very off-putting and a sure-fire way of shutting down lines of communication altogether.

When you’re tempted to say any old thing to fill a void ~ (Subtext: I’m uncomfortable so I’m going to say something because somebody has to!)

Silence can be cringe-worthy.   For instance, in a meeting you put an idea up for discussion; you ask for some thoughts … and nothing happens. But, if you start talking just to relieve the tension, chances are, you are missing an opportunity to hear from someone who simply needs a little time to process the information before sharing his or her opinion.  So, tolerating pauses, pregnant or otherwise, could be a very positive discipline to develop.

When you’re convinced of your ‘rightness’ ~ (Subtext: I’m right and I’m going to keep on talking until you agree with me).

Sometimes we can fall in love with our own ideas so much that we make no space for the possibility that we may be wrong.  Clinging to a position and arguing its virtues can be great fun but if we are not willing to listen to others’ perspectives and soften the edges of our views in the face of new information, we become a roadblock to progress.

When you realize you don’t really know what you’re talking about ~ (Subtext: I’m lost but I’ll look like a fool if I stop talking now.)

Every once in a while I will embark on a line of conversation… and then lose the thread.  Instead of stopping to get re-focused, I will keep talking in the hope that eventually, I’ll get to the point.  I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this.  When it happens, it’s embarrassing but frankly so is taking people on a meander that you didn’t intend.  As for me, I find it helps to simply stop, mid-ramble, and admit that I have no idea where I was going.  We all have a laugh and get to move on to something more productive.

There is of course a common theme running through the occasions I’ve described.  Each of them is a self-indulgent response.  In communication, as in leadership, self-indulgence will get in the way of success every time.

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

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Filed under communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams

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?

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

Listen Up!

“Pardon?” I say.

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Well,” he says.

“That’s because you weren’t listening.”

I expect that, for most of us, this is a pretty common conversation.  And yet, if we were to ask any number of people to rate the significance of listening in being a good leader; building good relationships; or doing good business, the ability to listen well would be among the most important.

So why are we not better at doing it?

Well for one thing, there is a possibility that we assume, because we come equipped with two ears, listening is something that will naturally follow.  However, while hearing may come naturally, listening certainly does not. And yet, little attention has been paid to teaching us how to use our ears for the purposes of actually absorbing what is being said.

Think about it.  When we were little children we were taught to read and write.  In high school we might have learned how to debate effectively or write a coherent essay.  And, Later on, we might have had instruction on effective presentation techniques, or business writing.  We recognize these as developed skills.  In comparison,  there is little such instruction on the topic of listening because we tend to believe that hearing and listening are synonymous.

The truth is, anyone can hear. Listening involves engaging, not only the ears, but also the brain, in the process of receiving new information and assimilating it in the way in which it was intended…a whole different ball game.

So, the question is, how do we get to a place where we hear less and listen more?

I have a few thoughts on that and here they are:

  1. Make Understanding the Goal

Just to be clear, understanding is not the same as agreeing.  Often, when someone is speaking, we allow our own values and judgments to intervene prematurely and evaluate.   Because of this (and just as often) we fail to understand what is really being said.   Making understanding the goal means getting past our own biases and making space for someone else’s perspective.

2. Be Quiet

This seems simple enough.  But is requires some practice.   It’s hard to take in what someone is saying if we have crowded our heads with inner chatter; are waiting for our turn to speak; or thinking about what we are going to have for dinner.   Taking a little time to achieve some sense of quiet and focus on the person talking will help to achieve the understanding we need to engage in a meaningful exchange of information or opinion.

3. Use the Inquiring Mind

Let’s face it.  Even with the best of intentions, we aren’t always going to get to the intended meaning of every conversation easily.  And, when we don’t, it is tempting to pretend we do if only to advance the conversation and move onto something else.   But of course doing that takes us further away from the goal. So it’s not something we would want to make a habit of.  Asking questions for clarity however, is a great habit to get into.  It lets people know we are listening and it keeps the conversation on the right track too.

4. Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is another good habit to develop when listening to someone speak.  This, by the way, is not about repeating word for word what we hear.  Instead, paraphrasing allows us to summarize in our own words what we have heard, without judgment.  If we are able to repeat what we understand the speaker to have said and the speaker confirms it as being what he meant, we have listened successfully.

Communication is one of the trickier activities to get right.  Last year,  I wrote another blog post called Lack of Communication You Say? It outlines some of the things that get in the way of our ability to communicate effectively with one another.  If you found this post of use to you, you may also consider checking that one out too!

Listening is a critical part of good communication.  What are your thoughts on it? What do you do to achieve understanding when you engage in conversation with someone?  What is your biggest challenge when it comes to listening to others?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leading Teams, Learning, 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?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, motivating & Inspiring