Learning to communicate

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Never assume. To be quite honest we could end this article on communication with that one simple piece of advice. It is so obvious and yet it is something which we all have been guilty of from time to time. When we think we have given simple instructions yet haven’t stopped to check understanding, when we use jargon in internal or external communications, when we announce decisions but don’t provide context; whenever in fact that we fail to communicate the clear picture we are making assumptions that we have no right to make.

Those mis-assumptions can arise anywhere and at any time. And when they do the cost to the business, its processes and its reputation can be measurable. With that in mind, why do we still go on making assumptions? Ironically, the core reason arises from another assumption; the assumption that everyone has the skills required for effective communication.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. As people we tend to operate within fairly closed circles. When we communicate with family, friends or immediate work groups there tends to be a base level of understanding and shared experiences. Not that that prevents assumption errors creeping in but it can tend to mitigate the chance for mis-understanding.

However, in a work situation we are potentially exposed to a much wider audience than our immediate circle. We may have to engage internally with colleagues in other departments; or externally with customers, suppliers, third parties and investors. Every one of those communications potentially carries a different base level of understanding and therefore requires a different approach. With that in mind how do you ensure that your people have the right skills for effective communication?

Re-imagine the approach to communication training

For many the solution may well be to re-imagine the approach to communication training. It is all very well training people how to communicate but that can lead to an approach which is ritualistic rather than empathetic. Giving people stock phrases, asking them to envisage what they want to say before they pick up the phone may align with a corporate message but it does nothing for building relationships.

Talking and listening, writing and reading are forms of dialogue but they don’t necessarily equate to genuine communication. For that you need to set self-confidence and empathy at the heart of communications training. In that way you will not only help your people to understand and envisage the way in which the message is likely to be received, you will also provide them with the confidence to step away from using stock phrases and genuinely build two way understanding.

Next time you communicate ask yourself what assumptions you are making. You may be surprised at the result.

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