31/07/2012

By Gavin Meikle, Head Of Learning And Founder Of Inter-Activ

Communicating with someone in a foreign language is difficult, unless of course you are fluent in that language too. Communicating with people who speak the same language however should be easy right! But if that is the case, how come we seem to have so many misunderstandings in our personal and business lives.

I believe one of the major reasons for communication breakdown is the fact that we don’t all have the same “internal dictionary” and so, although we use the same words, the meanings and nuances can vary greatly from person to person.

Take the word authority for example. What does it mean to you? Language is after all, just a verbal shorthand for a whole raft of ideas, feelings, images and emotions in our heads. If I told you I could help you project more authority as a communicator would that be positive or negative for you? Some people associate authority with credibility and influence and so would love be have more authority. Others associate authority with external control, manipulation or imposed rules and that’s the last thing they would want to be associated with. Same word, different perceptions, so how can we as professional communicators reduce the chances of misunderstanding.

Firstly we can take time to review our communication and ask ourselves is it really as unambiguous as we think it is? Put yourself into the shoes of your target audience and read it as they might do. What are the possible alternative meanings? What needs simplifying or clarifying?

Secondly we can test the message. Ask others to read it and then ask them to paraphrase its meaning back to you. Do they understand it in the same way as you meant it? The accurate transfer of meaning is, after all, surely the goal of effective communication. If they have a different understanding to the one you do, don’t blame them. Instead take responsibility for your own communication and rework your messages and then retest.

All of this may seem like a lot of work but what is the true price of poor communication? Do you really know how many tenders you have lost or how much work has had to be repeated because you got your communication wrong? Park your ego at the door and remember that everyone doesn’t see things in the same way as you do.