Finding Our Way to Clear, Accurate Communication

I’m reminded again of just how important clear communication is. I actually had my employment with my temporary services agency terminated a couple of days early due to what ended up being a pretty major miscommunication. (My contract was to expire at the end of this week, anyway, since I start my new job at Purdue on Monday.) What started simply as an erroneous assumption became something more significant because people failed to listen appropriately and failed to say what they actually meant.

Communication is a 4-part exercise — Person A has to listen, Person B has to clearly articulate the message, Person A then has to clearly articulate in response, and Person B has to then listen to that response. If even just one part of this process breaks down, the message fails to be communicated effectively, oftentimes leading to uncomfortable or angry confrontations.

The philosophy of our politically correct culture doesn’t always help the process of communication. We have attempted to remove, in the name of fairness and sensitivity, all language that would be offensive, that would potentially hurt someone else’s feelings. Negative language has been pushed aside as much as possible because we don’t want to give cause for anyone to feel bad about themselves (or about us). What we end up with is a form of dialogue that beats around the bush without always finding its way to the point. Verbal exchange hints at and implies actual meaning, as we find ways to soften our words.

What’s sad and frustrating about this is that, in a discussion of two, one may walk away feeling like good, productive discussion was had while the other is left feeling confused and unclear about the resolution. The former may think the message was communicated and that the job will get done properly, and the latter may either wonder what the job is supposed to be or think he knows what it is and do it, only to find out later that the actual job was something completely different. Or the former may communicate his dislike for the latter, only using terms that are ‘warm’ and ‘non-confrontational’, which may leave the latter thinking he is well-liked and appreciated. The possible combinations for confusion are endless.

No one likes confrontation, and most people will do anything to avoid it, if possible. Where one runs into trouble, however, is when confrontation is unavoidable. Rather than facing it openly, honestly, and humbly, one might couch his words in softer language, which, in turn, may not communicate the concerns or criticisms as effectively.

Honesty is a virtue, however much it may hurt sometimes. The real world tends to be harsh and cruel, and while we as communicators can avoid behaving similarly, we can still speak honestly and openly in a way that speaks actual feelings and thoughts, rather than shadows of the same. Smoke and mirrors have no place in communication (unless your intent _is_ to deceive). Where possible speak plainly, speak clearly, and speak with a frankness that, althought possibly uncomfortable, is clear, concise, and precise. Add to that the skill of listening as others are speaking, hearing what is said, what is implied, and what is left unspoken, and you will find, rather than a foe, a great friend in open communication.

Have anything to add to the conversation?