Communication: Do you ever get your wires crossed?

Why do communication breakdowns happen? Communication breakdowns and crossed wires can happen even in the simplest of conversations, let alone where you have to discuss something contentious or give some negative feedback to someone. There are many reasons why communication can break down in the workplace or within families or friendships:

  • Rapport – How much of a connection and rapport do you have with the individual? I see this as the foundation of any relationship and without it communication can go wrong quite quickly. You might need to take action to build rapport before having potentially difficult conversations.
  • Timing – Sometimes it is about finding the right time to communicate with someone. This will partly depend on what you are communicating, knowing when the individual is likely to be in the best frame of mind to listen. I always warn participants on my courses against setting the action of ‘first thing Monday morning I am going to speak to my manager about X’. As first thing Monday morning might not be the right time for them to listen and hear what is being said. Think about the individual, think about when are they going to be most receptive to what you have to say.
  • Wrong place/location – Do you need a private space to speak, do you need some uninterrupted time? Is the set up of the room conducive to the discussion that is going to take place?
  • The mood of the other person – If you know the individual(s) involved you can perhaps judge what mood they are in generally, how they are likely to respond.
  • Your mood – Your mood will affect your tone of voice and body language and can have a profound impact on how the other person perceives what you are saying and the direction that the conversation goes in.
  • Personality differences – Understanding about different personality types might mean that someone whom you feel is being difficult is just a different personality type and therefore needs to be communicated with in a different way.

Think about the last time you had a breakdown in communication, which factors were involved?

‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ Stephen Covey

Misreading emails As so much of communication is about our voice and body language, it is not really surprising that email communication can go awry, especially if there is not a good level of rapport between the individuals involved.

When was the last time your email communication was misunderstood or you were annoyed or irritated by someone else’s email?

Telephone communication If you think about it, in the past, we used to make phone calls from our offices or home, we were usually sat down comfortably, perhaps in a private space with few distractions. Now people make calls, even important calls, while driving, travelling on the train, walking down the road, in open plan offices and generally in public spaces. Although we might be trying to maximise the use of our time, are we maximising the potential of that telephone conversation? If it is an important conversation with a client, team member or even family member, when is the right time and place to make it? I just realised I am sounding like a BT advert, but perhaps they have a point!!

With the telephone you need to think about the importance of:

  • your tone of voice, what does it reveal about your mood and state of mind?
  • the rate of your speech, think about matching the other person, slowing down or speeding up a bit to match them and create more rapport with them.
  • managing silences, allowing the other person time to think.
  • showing that you are listening through verbal clues, reflecting back or summarising what you have heard.
  • asking appropriate questions to show that you are listening and to seek to understand the other person.

Think about recent telephone conversations you have had, what could you have done to enhance them?

‘Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.’ Anais Nin

Team communication I run a lot of team building events and communication (the lack of it, the frequency, the quality of it and miscommunication) is usually high on the agenda. Even though we now have so many different ways of communicating with each other we have not necessarily improved our communication. Teams are often so busy that communication becomes very task orientated, with the human element being missed out. And if you are a manager think about what you can do to foster the human element, as this is vital in order to lead, manage and motivate your team.

On a scale of 0 (poor) to 10 (excellent) how good is communication within your team (or clients, suppliers, or your family)?
If you asked others what would they say?

Communicating upwards I often run a workshop called ‘Managing Challenging Interactions’ in a variety of organisations, and as you can imagine it is a popular course!! And one of the challenges that participants often have is in communicating with their manager. People talk about not feeling listened to, they often talk about giving up having tried to express themselves time and again, getting talked down to and being patronised. What a waste of their ideas and expertise. Participants also talk about 121 sessions with their managers supposedly for support, where they leave these meetings feeling angry, demotivated and frustrated, because it tends to involve the manager speaking at them, rather than focussing on their needs.
How open are you to listening and hearing your team members’ ideas? Do you know what they really want and need in terms of support from you?

‘To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.’ Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Melanie Greene
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