Breaking Down Communication to Avoid Communication Breakdown

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03-09-2019

5 min read

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We’ve heard a lot about communication breakdown but is communication breakthrough possible or is it hard to accomplish? Would it matter if it’s a simple or complex message?

Let’s break it down!

We’ve all been in situations – personally or professionally – where we thought we had said what we construed in our head rather accurately to someone, but it was still misunderstood, misinterpreted, and resulted in conflict. Why is that?

Personally, I believe individuals don’t run far from their own belief system and tend to use their own subjective worldview to comprehend things.

As communication usually happens between two or more people, there is room for ambiguity in how the message is decoded. This is determined by the sender’s and receiver’s state of mind, verbal and non-verbal cues, and even the type of day they’ve had.

Is there a way to communicate more effectively? I believe there is, as I’ve learnt the hard way.

Breaking down communication

Knowing your intent

The first rule of thumb is being aware about what you are intending to communicate. Are you communicating with an intent to inform, instruct or clarify? The communication style you may use to do so may be different and is dependent on your role and power dynamics in your present context.

For example, if you were a coach and you were challenging your coachee to broaden their perspective, you may require a combination of directive and non-directive communication methods to help them consider all options.

Whatever your intent may be, spend some time understanding what you want your receiver to understand and what your desired outcome is from communicating your message.

It will also be an added advantage to keep your emotions in check when doing so. Being self-aware about how you are emotionally regulating yourself during a conversation may help you in the outcome you hope to achieve.

If you happen to feel that you are feeling angry or hurt and are responding based on your emotions, step away and take a quick breather. This will help you put things into perspective, analyse things, and respond carefully without the intent to hurt.

You may be interested in: Are You Listening?

Understanding your audience

It is extremely important to know who your audience is once you are aware about your intent and role. Your methods of communication may vary depending on your role, the type of message you are trying to send, and to whom you are sending it to.

For example, the communication style you use when speaking to someone from senior management may vary from speaking to someone that is working with you on a project.

Someone from senior management may very easily grasp things, so providing leaders with the objective, data, facts, figures and the outcome may be sufficient.

If your role is a project lead and you are speaking to a new project member, you may spend a great deal of time explaining what the project is about, the why, where the team is at in terms of progress, and what their area of responsibility is.

Hence, doing a quick audience analysis before you communicate your message may help in ensuring effective communication for both parties.

Ascertaining your medium of communication

It’s a no-brainer that verbal communication isn’t the only form of communication – people also pay close attention to non-verbal cues.

Thus, if a speaker’s tone is soft but their body language indicates other subtleties, there is room for conflict or miscommunication.

It is best to ensure that your verbal and non-verbal cues match and the only way to do this is with self-awareness.

Other mediums of communication include emails, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. This is where there is the most room to misconstrue a written message because of the lack of verbal and non-verbal cues.

Identifying the best medium to use depending on your audience and intent is important. For example, if there is conflict to address and your role is to clarify, choosing to have a face to face discussion will be more effective than email communication.

If the relevant parties are working remotely, consider leveraging video conference calls to resolve potential conflict.

Related: Enhance Your Communication Skills

What else can we do to ensure communication effectiveness?

Identifying your intent, knowing your audience and using the right medium might help you communicate more effectively, but are there other tools and tricks to leverage on? Here are a few that has helped me over the years.

Visual representation

Sometimes, speaking to someone isn’t the only way to get a point or idea across, especially in a professional setting. If it is important to get the other party to understand something, especially complex messages, leverage visual aids that may help them with their comprehension.

I once tried to communicate something to a co-worker who just never understood what I was trying to say no matter how many times I rephrased and repeated it.

I then took out a blank sheet of paper and started drawing things out, connecting the dots and asking her questions. It did not only help her quickly grasp what I was trying to say but she was able to contribute new ideas.

Don’t dismiss the power of PowerPoint, SmartArt Graphics and other visual tools for only making presentations and reports. They can also be used to break down complex messages and get your point across.

Stories

People love stories. As there are so many layers of emotions embedded in stories, it’s easier for people to break something down through stories – and even connect with it. In fact, the stories tend to stick and get passed on to someone else who may benefit from it.

If you’re a leader and want to tell your team to buck up, tell them that in a form of story that would motivate them and raise their spirits.

Paint the picture of clearly defined aspirations and end goals. You’ll definitely get a different reaction from using both methods.

Empathise

I can’t stress this one enough. Often, we prioritise our own needs. We think about what we want to get across especially if someone misunderstood us or showed incompetence. So, we’re quick to jump.

Try empathising instead. Before you say anything, very quickly check in with yourself to see how you would feel if you were on the receiving end. If it hurt you or made you feel upset, rephrase your message.

Positive language

Deliberately try to construct sentences using positive language. Although this may take more work, it is constructive and you will most likely find your receiver responding more favourably to you. It also reduces conflict and defensiveness, and creates room for collaboration – all of which help you with your goal.

In conclusion

This isn’t an article about increasing your confidence in speaking, but it is about communicating effectively, especially in a professional setting.

The truth is, communication is something simple yet complex because it involves other people and emotions. But with self-awareness, understanding and some self-help tools, one can become better at communicating effectively, no matter how complex the message is.

Laveenia Theertha Pathy works on leading and developing millennials and the generation Z to be future leaders. Free time is spent writing, painting, and growing in her passions which include people, learning and growth, and making a difference one small step at a time. Connect with her by emailing editor@leaderonomics.com.

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