Communication Breakdowns: How to Deal with It?

We have spent several posts discussing what can go wrong with communication.  Most of us over the course of our professional lives become experts at describing how communication can fail.  We spend considerable time describing communication debacles, failed exchanges, and the cost of “not getting it right.”  In the last several years, discussions of communication solutions have become more prevalent and a variety of methods, systems, and approaches have been put forward as answers.  Nevertheless, most of us still find it hard to follow through in practice on many of these ideas.

Most of us are so socialized that when communication issues arise we almost always associate the communication with the communicator automatically.    We have spent some time discussing how to improve as the communicator.  What about if you are the person receiving the communication?  What can the receiver do to facilitate more effective communication?

The most successful methods of communication clarification involve three straightforward steps:

  • Ask Questions
  • Analyze Information
  • Verify Understanding

Ask Questions

False assumptions are very dangerous to successful communication.  Even a focused listener, can fall in the trap of listening to a fraction of the message and deferring to assumptions about the communicator and message instead of the content.   Think about how often we draw conclusions from the first few comments or even the outward appearance of the communicator.  Once our brain registers the information, it begins processing.   One of the greatest advantages of personal interaction is the ability to ask questions in response to communication.  Even if you feel you understand the message well, it is important to clarify the message.

Analyze Information

Although with communication listening and understanding receive the majority of the attention, analyzing is critical to success.  It is important to briefly analyze the filters utilized by the sender as well as those of your own.  Filters are constructed from attitudes, experiences, emotions, and culture.  All of our perceptions and interactions undergo some sort of filtering process.  By analyzing what might influence a message on the part of the sender and receiver, the right questions can be asked as part of verifying understanding.

Verify Understanding

After initial questions and analysis, it is important to ask follow up questions.  Analysis can easily generate more questions than it answers.  How many times have you found that after the receiver has a little time that he or she comes back to ask follow-up questions?  It is important to consider that this may be the last time to ascertain content and intent before action needs to be taken.

It should be evident that a key part of successful communication is interaction.  Without interaction the chance for communication failure increases significantly.   As the communicator, make sure you afford time for interaction.  If you are recipient, make sure you ask questions, analyze, and follow-up before taking action.

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