Recently, I was working on a multi-step word puzzle, enjoying myself because I was confident I had it solved. I had gone over the steps several times and when I checked the answer I was shocked to discover I was wrong. So shocked, in fact, that I thought the answer key must have been incorrect. Included with the key was a written description of the steps; once I read it, I realized my mistake. I had wrongly interpreted one word, which affected the whole puzzle. I contemplated this afterward, and the more I thought about it, the more aware I became of how important communication is and how easy it is to have miscommunications and misunderstandings.
Everyone communicates daily, and though we have a lot of practice, there can be vast differences in terms of our communication quality and outcomes. Examples of communication breakdowns are virtually unlimited and they can have big effects on the quality of our lives. Communication can be difficult because it is influenced by our interpretation, the environment, and the perceived clarity of the message. The goal of this article is to identify roadblocks to communication and give ways to improve our skill in this vital part of life.
ROADBLOCKS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Have you ever tried to get directions or information from someone who doesn’t speak your language? It feels frustrating and almost impossible, right? Or have you ever asked someone something but later not been able to remember what was said? You can make life a lot easier, smoother, more rewarding, and successful by being able to identify common challenges.
- MISUNDERSTANDINGS: These are universal and there are a few reasons why they happen. One possibility is that we did not have a strong enough understanding of the topic, and so even though it was communicated clearly, there were words or phrases with which we were unfamiliar. It could also be that the information wasn’t communicated with enough clarity or detail for us to sufficiently understand.
- LANGUAGE BARRIER: The language barrier extends past words and into body language and gestures. A motion that might mean ‘good’ in one language or culture may be rude in another. When we are working through cross-language or cross-cultural communication, we have to remember to be patient and that it is likely difficult for both sides.
- POOR ENGAGEMENT: Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone focused on something else? It can be frustrating for both parties. Work with your communication partner to achieve the best results.
ENVIRONMENTAL OR TECHNOLOGY: Things such as loud environments, poor cellular or internet coverage, and faulty hearing aids can be big problems.
- PHYSICAL CHALLENGES: Physical issues, such as difficulty reading or hearing, make communication difficult and knowledge can be a big roadblock. If the tools are not available or we don’t have the knowledge required, take steps to resolve them.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Now that the challenges have been identified, here are some suggestions to avoid pitfalls and make your communications more successful.
- BE PRESENT: If someone is trying to speak with you but you are engaged in an activity, you have two main positive choices: letting them know when you’ll be available to them or making the decision to stop what you are doing to give them your full attention. If you take the other main path and choose to split your attention, both your activity and your communication will suffer. As a bonus, being present with someone is a way of showing respect, and will likely lead to a higher quality interaction.
- EYE CONTACT: This is a very important for communication in-person for several reasons. First, it locks both people in and lets the other person know you’re ready and committed to being there with them. Secondly, the additional focus allows us to be more aware of body language which can help us understand the other person better.
- SEEK CLARIFICATION: If something isn’t making sense, try asking follow-up questions. This can be challenging because it may require humility; we all have egos but do not have infinite knowledge. Asking for clarification not only shows you are engaged but can give your communication partner a confidence boost because it demonstrates a certain level of respect for them, the topic, or both.
- BE CURIOUS: Being genuinely interested in the other person or topic is fantastic for communication. It encourages us to be more engaged and seek clarification, two of the tips already mentioned. It increases our ability to truly understand and learn. When we are communicating with someone who truly wants to understand the idea, we feel two things: they are probably at least somewhat trustworthy and healthy (they had the energy to actively listen) and that you are cared for (this may only be felt subconsciously).
- MAKE IT A WIN/WIN: Instead of using ‘you’ and ‘your’ statements, use ‘I’ statements. This alleviates the risk of a defensive reaction in the other person which is likely to negatively affect the quality of your interaction. Try using words that describe how you feel about a situation because it shows a level of responsibility and acceptance.
- BE STRAIGHTFORWARD: Remember to keep your communications as simple as possible. This can be very difficult with emotionally-charged topics, but that is when it is most necessary. Something else to keep in mind is that there are may ways of expressing ideas which may seem perfectly clear to you but not to your communication partner.
- GET IT IN WRITING: If the subject matter is formal, pressing, or important, consider getting it in writing. This holds all parties accountable, but more than that, it is an official acknowledgement.
- DO UNDERSTANDING CHECKS: This may be obvious but we often assume people understand what we say. Checking for understanding can be a very useful tool in communication. Because we don’t always ask for clarification, we can miss important points or ideas by feigning understanding or agreement. If you get the impression the other person is not following, try asking them to put what you’ve said into their own words. This will quickly highlight any issues.
- REPEAT: As mentioned above, repeating or paraphrasing what has been said is a terrific way of making sure both parties have been heard and understood. When you repeat or paraphrase what the other person said it let’s them know you were listening and gives them an opportunity to clarify if you misinterpreted what was said. This is a great way for your communication to be smoother and more focused.
I hope you found this helpful.
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