What is the most important thing about communication? Seriously, I’m asking!
Have you ever thought about it, seriously though about it, before you talked with someone, went to a meeting, made a presentation, sent a tweet, issued a press release, attended a conference, had dinner with a friend?
Is it getting your message across?
Is it having your opinion heard?
Is it establishing a connection?
It is knowing more about your audience so you can tailor your message?
Is it access to other points of view?
Is it receiving information?
Is reaching a wide audience? Or reaching the right audience?
It’s a little different for each situation, right? If you’re meeting a client to make a pitch versus meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, you will have different communication priorities. If you are talking to one person rather than a whole group you would take a different approach. If you are attending a presentation versus giving a presentation you will have a completely different orientation. If you’re tweeting versus sending a press release, those are two very dissimilar situations.
It’s important to consider what your objective is in communication and to determine the right strategy to achieve it, whether you’re asking the board to allocate $ 100K for new equipment or talking to someone about their new car.
“Oh, come on, Robin!” I hear you say. “Don’t be ridiculous. I know the difference between personal/social and business/professional communication. The rules are different, you don’t have to be so conscious about the objectives and strategies and all that stuff. You can be more relaxed.”
Really? If people know the difference between what’s personal and what’s not, — if that’s true then how could they be sharing photos of their bank cards on Twitter? Or showing the cash they are counting on Facebook? And if you’re dismissing those examples because these are young people let’s talk about the Anthony Weiner “Sexting Scandal” — there’s a brilliant instance of thoughtless communication!
It’s important to ensure even casual “conversations” are meaningful, because, frankly, if we were all better communicators, the world would be a better place. At minimum, there would be a hell of a lot fewer misunderstandings.
Have a clear purpose. Effective communication should be purposeful. What is your desired outcome of meeting with this person? What do you expect to get out of attending the conference? Thinking about this ahead of time allows you to set things up to help meet your expectations, and allow you to take action to course-correct or adjust your mindset during the situation to get there, if necessary. Having a purpose helps you be a more efficient and effective communicator.
Otherwise, it can be like running into the store because you know you need a few things, but you don’t have a specific list. Maybe you are more disciplined than I, but I end up spending too much time to buy more than I need, spend more than I want and, sometimes, take home something that is absolutely non-essential.
Be mindful and consider the communication opportunity, keeping in mind the environment, the audience and the timing. Be conscious of who you are talking to, where you are talking to them (location), how you are talking to them (vehicle) and when. How effective your communications can be influenced by environmental factors.
Do you remember wanting to do something really, really badly and needing your parent’s permission to do it? Did you, like me, agonize over when Dad would be in the best mood to say yes? We should be equally mindful of each conversation we have to try to achieve the best outcome. For both parties.
Be aware of your frame. Everyone has a frame of reference. You “frames” are the experience, predisposition, background and bias that “colour” the way you see the world, interpret and process information. It’s important to work to avoid automatically attributing the same frames of reference to the other participants in your communication situation. While you need to know what’s motivating you to perceive the information in a particular way, you cannot assume that other parties are similarly motivated.
Understand that the other participants have agendas too. Like you, the every other person implicated in the communication occasion are looking for particular results. While it would be wonderful if the expectations were shared, or could be adjusted for mutual benefit, this will not always be the case. Go into communication with an openness that will allow for compromise.
Listen. Make sure your focus on the expected outcome is not so single-minded that it does not impede your ability to participate in the conversation and to hear what is going on. Actively listening and processing, while being open to the possibility that others may not be on the same wavelength as you, can help to nip misunderstanding in the bud, or help prevent the conversation from going wildly off track.
Communication is a fundamental need of most species. Our high level ability to verbally communicate may be the principal difference between man and animal. It is the basis of relationships. It has been the cause of wars. It is also a personal and professional responsibility.
What is most important about communication is that it cannot be avoided completely. Since it is so necessary, let’s communicate consciously so we communicate well.