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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Confusing the Speaking of Words With the Art of Communicating

People confuse the speaking of words with the art of communicating, and then are dismayed with the outcome. The space between listening and speaking is where communication takes place.
Assuming I am correct, how did we ever get the idea that when we speak words we are communicating? I looked up the definition of communication and what I found was interesting. Wikipedia defines communication as the activity of conveying meaningful information. The thesaurus provided synonyms such as to stay in touch, exchange a few words, speak, talk... no wonder we believe that speaking is communicating.
We don't teach children to communicate; we teach them to speak a language. They learn to communicate their displeasure by throwing tantrums, and how do we respond? We ignore them, scold them, or give in to them. What did they learn? They learned that without speaking a word they got us to take an action.
How does this translate to the business world? Perhaps you have an employee who is habitually late. Sometimes we don't confront them yet hope their behavior changes. Other times we may share our displeasure with them and give them the 'shape up or ship out' talk. And if they provide excuses and/or their behavior doesn't change, we give in and let them come in late. What did they learn? We used words but often our actions speak louder than our words. We communicated through our actions, not our words.
Let's take another example. You have a demanding, difficult customer. The decision is made to talk to the customer and tell them their demands are unreasonable. The conversation goes something like, "Mr. Customer, we have attempted to satisfy you but regardless of our actions you seem dissatisfied. I'm not sure what else we can do at this point." Few of us would specifically tell a customer their demands are unreasonable. We'd dance around the topic, speak some words and then wonder why the outcome is not what we want.
Just because we speak does not mean we are communicating. Do your words match your actions? Are you clearly communicating what you want to say, or are you expecting someone to read between the lines? Next time you are dismayed with the outcome of your communication, ask yourself if you spoke words, or if you delivered a message that could be understood. Did you say one thing but mean something else? Were you hoping to not have to be direct but that the other party would still get the message? Confusing the speaking of words with the art of communicating will not get you the results you want


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