When communication goes awry, as it sometimes will, we usually blame the listener, because we perceive the listener has the major responsibility in making sure the message is understood. In reality, communication is a 100% responsibility by both the listener and the speaker.
If you, as the speaker want to make sure your message is understood, you need to take full responsibility for using the tools of effective communication.
The four tools for effective communication are:
• Establish a Frame of Reference • Ask clarifying questions • Paraphrasing • Listening for the words behind the words (understanding feelings)
Therefore, as the speaker check with your listener to verify that your Frame of Reference is understood. Invite your listener to ask clarifying questions (i.e. When? Where? How? What? Who?). Ask your listener to paraphrase back what he/she has understood you to say. Taking responsibility for your feelings and conveying them with the message will make your communications more meaningful and rewarding. It is also helpful to convey your feelings by using “I” statements. For example: I feel _______when__________. This takes the burden off the listener in reading non-verbal messages. Whether you are the speaker or the listener, it is your responsibility to use the communication tools conscientiously, if the message is important to you.
Communication is a more complicated medium than we perceive it to be. Whether listening, reading, speaking, or writing, we have selective listening (reception) and selective speaking (transmission) processes operating at all times. As you read this article, you are selectively hearing my message and I am selectively sending it based on past experience, needs values, images and the language I use. These can all become barriers to effective communication.
As you listen, you filter information in or out based on your evaluation of what you are hearing and your determination if it has value. “Do I need this? Will it give me what I want? Is it important?” If the answers to these questions are “Yes,” you will make more effort to be sure you have understood. If the answers are “No,” You won’t take as much time and effort. Since these questions are usually asked on an unconscious level, you may often allow past experiences to determine what you listen to in the here and now.
As a speaker, you ask, “Is it important to have my message understood? What will I gain if the listener understands?” The greater your need to have your message understood, the more time you will spend making sure you are heard.
The value you put on the information being conveyed also has a great deal to do with how well you communicate. As a listener, the value you place on the speaker’s information will determine how conscientiously you use good listening skills. If you don’t agree with the basic premise or if you believe it isn’t important, you may begin to evaluate the message before the speaker has finished speaking. You may then begin to daydream or mentally formulate a rebuttal.
As a speaker, the greater the value you put on the information the more time and effort you will spend conveying it. If you want your message to be understood, it is important for you to determine what is of value to the listener and deliver the message based on the listener’s values. When listeners are aware that you place importance on their values, they are usually willing to hear the significance of your message on a cognitive and affective level.
The image that you, as a listener, have of the speaker also determines the level of attention you will give him/her. If you image is one of respect, acceptance, or understanding, you will be more conscientious about making sure the message is heard. If the image is a judgmental one—Does he know what he is talking about? She/he doesn’t have a PhD, how can she/he know enough to teach me?—you will not spend adequate time using effective communication skills.
The same is true if you are the speaker. If your image of the listener is one of respect, understanding, or acceptance, you will spend time making sure the message has been understood. If you lack the self-image and self confidence necessary to convey your message to doctors, lawyer’s or some other group with whom you may feel inadequate, you will fail to use the communication skills and will not communicate in depth or adequately.
These barriers are in operation constantly on the part of both listener and speaker. In order for effective communication to take place, these barriers need to be checked out. If the listener has an unfavorable image of the speaker, the speaker needs to address that issue and resolve it. The speaker can change a perception someone has by clarifying a misunderstood action or reaction and by sending the message in a way that will meet the needs of the listener.
The language you use to convey your message is important, too. Any information can be conveyed in an infinite number of ways. As the speaker, you need to use words the listener will understand. Jargon can be a problem; therefore, avoid using professional argot, regionalisms and ethnocentrisms. You run the risk of losing the listener’s interest. If you are the listener and do not understand the words being used, ask the speaker to explain.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, Author, Life Coach and International Speaker. As an inspirational leader, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life’s challenges as an opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual Awakening. www.gen-assist.com