Do you find yourself saying that after a frustrating conversation, about something you know you’ve already discussed? It can be infuriating when you thought your message had already been received and understood, and the opposite turns out to be true. But we can all be guilty of it, and it’s not always our fault – there are lots of reasons that communication can fail, and the message you thought you’d delivered just doesn’t get through. Here we look at some of those barriers to communication, which may help you to overcome them, and have the best chance of those messages being delivered first time.
We’ve all been there – the boss comes along and reels off a list of tasks that need to be done, along with deadlines and levels of urgency. Too much information at once leaves us feeling overwhelmed, and concerned that we missed something important, especially if there’s lots of news in there. So when you need to deliver on a message that’s complex, detailed or includes new concepts, break it up into digestible chunks. If you’ve delivered it verbally, follow up in an email. Your team will be able to look back when they need to, to refresh their memory and make sure they’ve got it right. Remember too that new team members may need repeated explanations to make sure they understand what they’re doing and why.
Have you tried to reason with a furious toddler or a teenager in full-blown rebellion? Try it once, and you probably won’t again! Emotions make a huge difference to how effectively your message is absorbed – and those emotions include yours. An angry person can very rarely tune into the messages from another angry person, simply because their own emotion is all-consuming. Messages you hear are interpreted through the veil of that emotion you’re feeling, so if you’re stressed or anxious, and someone expresses a concern to you, you’re far more likely to take it as criticism or personal attack. The emotion that accompanies a message is also important – an email written in anger is easy to spot, and the message is more likely to be discounted because of it.
So the best approach here is to make sure your emotions are under control when you communicate, and be aware of any heightened emotion in the person you’re speaking to – and weigh up whether or not to wait until later.
The messages you send are filtered by every person who receives them – through their emotions as above, as well as their personal experiences, views of the world, values, and how they view themselves. The same message could be interpreted completely differently by two different listeners. Your original intention – perhaps, an area that needs to be improved – could be interpreted by one listener as a way to develop and improve them, and by another as an attack on their abilities. So if there is any room for interpretation of your message, it’s vital to be aware that this could happen – and make sure your intentions are crystal clear from the start. Reducing the number of people that your message has to go through to be delivered is also key here, so that nothing gets lost or changed in translation.
Respect and Reputation
The person listening will subconsciously evaluate the worth of a message based on what they think of the person it’s coming from. If they don’t trust them, or feel they know more about the subject than the speaker, they will be sceptical; if they like and respect them, they are more likely to believe it and prioritise any actions.
Your credibility as a manager will make all the difference to the way your team respond to what you have to say – so the more open and honest you are, and the more two-way communication you encourage, the better for the respect and reputation you’ll build. It will have the added benefit of making it much easier to find out whether your messages have been understood, because you’ll feel able to ask, and your team will be used to that.
Apathy vs Motivation
An engaged staff member who knows how their work contributes to the overall success of the team, and how they are developing, will be far more open to your communications than someone who is feeling unvalued, directionless and apathetic. Keep your team motivated, interested and engaged, and you’ll have a far more receptive audience to what you have to say. Read more in this post: Being a Good Leader
Environmental factors can make a huge difference in effective communication. If you hold a team meeting in a noisy environment with lots of distractions – ringing phones, pinging emails or even a busy café – you’re more likely to have trouble with focus. Find the right venue and you eliminate those problems from the start.
Making the mistake of assuming your communications are effective can be disastrous – so the best policy is to check and double check that everyone is on the same page, particularly for new projects or big changes. Follow up with a clear, bullet-pointed email that highlights the key points and what they are expected to do as a result. This will be so valuable for you all to refer back to in the future.
Creating an excellent team ethos, cultivating a culture of Psychological Safety, knowing your people and keeping them motivated are so important for effective communication – but understanding the psychological barriers to communication makes a big difference. Appreciating that we are all subject to factors that can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding will give you an even greater chance of being heard and understood as you intend.
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