Making sure you get the message through

19:58, Nov 15 2012
Jane Butler
Jane Butler Out of the rut

Consider this: The meaning of my communication is the response I get.

How often do we find ourselves blaming the other party for not understanding what we are saying? But what if the blank look means we need to say the same thing in a different way?

When you go to a maze and find that you are at a dead end, do you think you have failed or do you realise you need to try another route?

It's also helpful to check that we've been understood by asking a few questions, but beware of closed questions that don't require the listener to engage. Teachers of English as a second language learn early on not to ask their students: "Do you understand?" (The only answer they ever get is "Yes"). Instead, they ask questions which allow the student to demonstrate that they understand.

It's not a stretch to apply the same principle to those who speak English as a first language. If we ask a yes/no question the listener does not have to engage brain and converse. Whether you're a manager instructing a staff member or a parent talking to a teenager, you'll find value in asking open questions that invite conversation and allow the other party to demonstrate their understanding or knowledge. The classic five helpful words in this regard are who, what, when where and how.

Consider the difference between asking, "Do you know how to use that machine?" And "How do you use that machine? Run me through it."


Being direct

If we want people to understand what we mean, we have to say what we mean. That requires us to be clear and direct. That's no secret, I know, but while New Zealanders pride themselves on calling a spade a spade, we all know people who beat around the bush.

You may argue that indirect conversation has its place, but be clear with yourself about why you are taking the indirect approach. Is it because you want to soften what you have to say so you don't cause offence, or is it because you don't have the courage to say exactly what you want to say? Does expressing your opinion, or giving feedback, or issuing instructions make you squirm? Do you seek some comfort in padding what you have to say with so many surplus sentences the listener misses the point? Or by saying something vaguely relevant that leaves the listener guessing?

Be careful: Not only do you risk being misunderstood, you risk coming across as manipulative.

Consider the difference between:

A: "It's so hot in this office . . ." (repeated several times, before turning on the air conditioning). B: "I'm hot, I'm going to turn on the aircon."

Be a great role model for your children and colleagues - communicate directly, and say what you mean.

If you are interested in more styles of communication and their effects on others, please contact me. Until then, be aware of how people respond to you. When you receive a positive reaction, you're on the right track; when the other person appears to be "at sea", there is room for improvement.


The Marlborough Express