If you step back and analyze the process of communication, you will realize that it’s actually a fairly difficult one, where a lot can get lost in translation. The upshot, however, is that the communication loop between one person and another can be decoded and improved upon. In pursuit of this improvement, we’ll take a look at what goes in to a communication loop—be it written, drawn, spoken, etc. And then we’ll go over five ways to make yourself better at simply getting your point across.
The Communication Process (Via Mindtools)
Source > Message > Encoding > Message > Channel > Message > Decoding > Message > Receiver > Feedback
The above communication process details each step that must occur for a piece of information to be communicated. It starts in your brain (the source), is put in some sort of message form, like the written or spoken word (encoded), and then passes it through a channel (blog, telephone, book, television), where the receiver interprets it (decodes), and then gives feedback.
Now that you see everything that occurs in the transaction between source and receiver, you can better understand the ways in which your communication often gets garbled, distilled, altered, or lost. The opportunity, as mentioned above, is understanding this loop. Part of this understanding is just seeing it fleshed out—like you just did. But here are five keys that can help you take advantage of the communication loop.
- Talk clearly, with fewer details rather than more. Seeing the communication loop, you now recognize that there are many stages along the path from source to receiver in which information can be skewed or lost. If, however, you articulate short, succinct chunks of information, the main ideas are less likely to fall through the tracks. This requires that you plan your communication out, which may take a bit more time. But doing this will pay off in the long run.
- Select the most appropriate channel for delivering your message. Nowadays, we’re inclined to email and text, sending our messages in short, quasi-written form. For many types of communication (rapid-fire, informal) these are appropriate mediums. Nonetheless, email and text simply cannot get to the bottom of things as effectively as a conversation. Talking face-to-face or over the phone, both people in the communication loop can ask questions, listen for tone of voice, explain and re-explain until the point is both made and taken. This works best in describing details or for items covered in meetings. On the other hand, certain types of communication may take more nuanced or structured arguments (think letters to attorneys, bosses, editors) and are best if composed and edited.
- Become adept at giving feedback. A big part of communicating is being the receiver of communication. To be good at this, you need to get good at showing the speaker that you’re understanding what they’re saying. For an example, I’d like to talk about my dad, who is a dentist and has a tendency to drill, not just teeth, but information, too. By that I mean, he wants so badly for the listener to understand what he’s saying that he will repeat and repeat the same piece of information over and over again. This can get frustrating over time. Being his son, and thus the receiver of a great deal of his information, has taught me how to convey very obviously that I understand what he’s saying. I do this first by taking what he’s told me and rephrasing it in my own words. This typically works. If it doesn’t, then, I literally repeat what he said word for word and say, “Dad, I get it.” There are other, more subtle methods to use as well: quickly nodding the head, saying things like “true,” “I see,” “that makes sense” and “uh-huh,” or asking questions that indicate your understand of points made.
- Train yourself to be an expert decoder. In other words, be a good listener. It seems simple, but failure to listen properly is the bane of the world’s information flow and the greatest creator of the world’s misinformation. In many conversations, we are so eager to weigh in or to give off the vibe that we understand—when, truly, we don’t—that we don’t take time to decode what’s actually being said. In order to listen, you must do all that is in your power to not lose concentration. Also, unless you are in a debate, do not try to formulate your response in the midst of their conversation. Our brains are good at switching tasks but not at multitasking, so you will undoubtedly lose some information if you try to formulate a response in the midst of another person’s talk.
- Step five is to practice the above four. It’s easy to think of these once or twice after reading a blog post, but to really get good, you must be a diligent steward of your communication. That is, you need to be conscious of these steps as you go about your day talking to friends, family, coworkers and whomever you may encounter.
Becoming a courteous and coherent communicator can take you far in this world. Perfecting these steps will get you on the right path.