All too often people fail to communicate well; we don’t get our message across or don’t understand what is being conveyed. Have you ever considered how much communication costs you in time, energy and performance?

Communicating can be frustrating unless we are tactful—that is, ensuring that the other person is able to adequately understand our message.  This relies on:

  • Translating the thought or idea into a medium (speech, text etc.) that the other person can receive. Starting with a clear objective and translating it into understandable communication relies on us knowing what outcome we want, and what matters to the receiver.
  • The ability of the receiver to accurately receive the signal that is sent, without interference or distraction. If the environment is too noisy, or if they are distracted during the communication by other stimulii, the receiver may miss some, or all, of the message.
  • The ability for them to understand what was sent. Ensuring that we know how the receiver communicates, i.e. what language and ideas they use, is critical to being understood. This is where jargon often leads to communication failure.
  • The ability for the receiver to translate the communication into an idea or thought that matches with what the sender intended. The message needs to connect to the receiver, what they know and believe, so that they can make sense of what has been shared, and draw the appropriate conclusion as desired by the communicator.

Communication often fails, even when both parties are invested in making it work. It is the responsibility of the communicator, rather than the receiver, to control each of these steps adequately so that the outcome can be achieved.

Tactful communication means consciously finding ways to be heard, understood and connect the recipient to your message.

What can you do as a communicator?

  • Be aware that you are responsible for the communication. Be non-defensive, and open to test and shift what you are doing. Not being fixed in the ‘how’ you communicate opens up the possibility of moving beyond communication roadblocks.
  • Don’t just get sucked into the content. Keep yourself aware of the communication process, and its progress. Getting locked into the content means you may miss key signals about how your communication is being received.
  • Ensure that you can be heard, and understood. Make sure the environment and circumstances are suitable for your communication; watch for distractions, surprises and that the person receiving the communication can do so in the form that it was intended.
  • Strive for clarity and avoid communicating through implication. Never expect that your intention is understood, communicate in the simplest way possible.
  • Plan the outcome that you want, and communicate to achieve that outcome. Communications without planed outcomes tend to wander and get into problems.
  • Seek to understand, then to be understood. The more you know about the person you are communicating with, the more you can determine their current position and beliefs on the topic of interest, and the frames of reference relevant to them. These are critical aspects of crafting your communication.
  • Use stories and metaphors to keep them engaged. Facts are nice, but lack relevance. Placing them into stories makes them come alive for the person, and helps them connect with what you are sharing.
  • Test and check. Keep checking your communication progress by testing the receiver’s understanding and reshaping your communication to keep it on track. It is not possible to know every outcome that will be possible with your communication, but by checking and testing as you progress, you can ensure the best chance of reaching your desired goal.

Tactful communication takes effort and practice.  The payoff in performance, however, makes it a worthwhile practice.