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The single biggest problem with communication

How to ensure your communication is heard and understood.

Woman with hand behind hear so she can listen better

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

It is most likely that you have experienced this in both a professional and personal context. Perhaps an employee or peer has accused you of not telling them something when you know you sent an email or discussed it at last week’s team meeting. If you have children, you are probably very familiar with the phrase, ‘How many times do I have to tell you?’. Perhaps you’ve had a partner say in bemusement, ‘We have not had this conversation before’, even though you have discussed it several times.

When this happens, you are experiencing the illusion of communication. Essentially you think you have communicated your point, but the message has not been received or understood.

When it comes to miscommunication, the easiest and most common reaction is to blame the recipient with such conclusions as ‘They don’t listen’, ‘They are not paying attention’ or ‘They just don’t get it’. But in reality, it is not their job to get it. As the communicator, the onus falls on you to make sure they understand what you are saying.

How can you make sure your message is being heard and understood? I believe there are at least four things you can do to increase your audience’s understanding and retention of what you are saying.

  • Be very clear in the message you want to communicate and, about the action you want them to take.
  • Communicate in a language they understand. For example, avoid jargon and acronyms that can lead to confusion.
  • Think about how you can use stories or analogies to help people understand and relate to your message.
  • If necessary, recap any decisions that were made as well as any actions that need to be taken, when and by whom.

When you focus on these four pointers, your communication will be more precise and easier to understand. Thinking about how to convey your message will help ensure your communication focuses on reality, not illusion.

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