What percentage of the information you share daily is delivered as one-way messages that you transmit without checking how the message lands? I asked this of an audience recently and most of the people in the room answered 80 percent or higher. How would you answer? It’s a major problem if you’re only communicating to people and not with them.
To communicate is to make common—that’s the Latin root of the word. You’ve successfully communicated when you’ve created a common understanding between yourself and your audience. Safe to assume that sending an email means you’ve communicated…nope! A sure bet that standing up and presenting in a town hall means you can check off the communication box…not so fast! Communication cannot, by definition, be something you can accomplish on your own.
When you send a message without checking if it was heard or how it was received, you’re essentially sticking your message in a bottle and casting it into the sea. You don’t know if the person heard you correctly. You don’t know if they interpreted the message the way you intended. You don’t know what reaction your message triggered in the receiver. You certainly don’t know if they are going to do what you had hoped in response. In fact, you know nothing (nada, zip, zilch) more than you knew before you transmitted your message. And that means you don’t know if you actually communicated at all.
Once you realize how often you communicate at people, you start to feel a little self-centered. You question whether you’re actually being effective. Are your messages resonating? Do you have the influence you think you have? If you just broadcast your messages, you’ll never know.
Tips to ensure you communicate with someone?
- Talk (or write) in smaller chunks. Don’t require your audience to take in too much before you check for understanding. As soon as it feels like you’re delivering a monologue, you’ve lost them.
- Attend to the audience’s body language. Are they listening? Comprehending? Agreeing? Objecting?
- When you finish transmitting your message, pose a question. “What are the most important aspects of this from your perspective?” (That’s where monologue becomes dialogue.)
- Seek out different perspectives. “What aspects of this do you see differently?”
- Finish your communication with a test of alignment such as, “What are we going to do differently?” or “What have we agreed?”
From now on, don’t count one-way transmission of information as communication. It’s a good first step, but only a first step. Each time you want to convey a message where the receiver’s understanding, acceptance, and action matter, force yourself to take the extra steps to ensure you’ve created a common understanding. Only then will you have communicated with them.