George Bernard Shaw said ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’. This same quote was used by Tim Fargo in his foreword to my book ‘Mug and Tweet’ and has been used by communicators over the decades, to question the effectiveness of our communication. I work alongside Steve Maraboli, who is in my opinion one of the greatest Human Behaviour specialists ever, and he always asks that we observe the behaviour of others and more importantly our own behaviour. The real question that needs to be asked by ourselves, of ourselves is: What were we thinking that caused us to say and do what we did? Did our actions communicate effectively? More importantly what was our attitude towards the people we were communicating with, did we take into account what John Maxwell has always said ‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’.
What then is the Illusion of Communication?
Many people talk, yet very few communicate. Do we have an audience or do we think we have an audience and then even if you have an audience why are you assuming they are listening to you? What have you done for them and what is the vision or hope that they will derive from your message? If the message is just about us or our organisations, and we have not thought about how our message will change the lives of people, our communication will be ineffective. We should then ask ourselves why we are wasting our time and why we are being so disrespectful of the time of others? Sounds harsh I know and it is intended to sound exactly like that.
What should we be doing to ensure that our communication actually took place, what actions should we be looking for?
Leadership starts with us, and you are probably thinking “but this article is about communication” – yes it is and when we are able to effectively communicate we are also able to lead our own lives and possibly the lives of others through our example.
Here are the actions we should be looking for:
- Listening – did we listen effectively? When we are able to listen to the conversations of others and hear their needs we are able to communicate effectively with them, only by listening to others can we start by showing that we actually care for them.
- Emotion – playing big and tough, only wanting the facts and not the emotion when we listen is just as futile as only giving facts and no emotion when we communicate. We can be factually correct, but unless we believe in the message and how it will change the lives of others, we have simply given facts and not connected with the emotions of our audience – we are then co-creators of the Illusion of Communication.
- Questions – only when people start to ask us questions can we really know they listened, without questions we can be very confident that we missed the mark.
- Feedback – Sometimes the audience will be reluctant to ask questions, we need to be prepared to make broad sweeping generalisations so that we can get a reaction from the audience. This is a controversial way of approaching things but if you are bold enough it can work in your favour. As a leader you should always be ready to communicate with people.
- Conversation – some of the worst communication we can give is a complete statement, all the facts or say anything where we don’t welcome feedback. NO, that is arrogance not leadership, we never have all the facts, we can never make a complete statement and we always need to show that we care for the opinions of others.
If we are able to follow those simple steps we can begin to seek better ways to listen and understand others, so that ultimately we may be able to communicate a little more effectively with them.
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