Poor communication is often stated as a major problem facing business and the professions. This applies to both external and internal communication and is also evident in our private lives.
In this article we are addressing ‘direct’ communication where our intention is to effectively provide others with information. We are referring to either written or verbal messages. In a later blog we’ll address ‘conversational’ communication which is important in building relationships.
There is usually a gap between our intended message and the recipient’s understanding of it. Their perception has been shaped by their environment and personal experience. Comprehension of the message will also be affected by ‘barriers’ and these could include personal prejudice, inability to understand the person’s accent, noise etc.
If the receiver realises there is a gap, they’ll try to fill the gap with what they thought the sender meant. So, the bigger the gap the more distorted the message may become.
CLOSING THE GAP
So, our goal is to minimise the gap and this becomes even more important where we are dealing with a complex message. How do we do this? We need to check that we are sending a clear, concise message and there are a number of ways to do this:
1. Journalistic approach
We should check our message against the following (open) questions to ensure that we have covered all necessary aspects for that specific message. We won’t always need to cover all the questions below. But check the appropriate ‘open’ questions.
2. Layers of complexity
Think about the message carefully. Obviously it is going to be worded differently depending on our target recipient. But to understand our own content better a good exercise is to ask ourselves how we could best explain the same message to each of the following types of people:
a. A five-year old
b. A seventeen-year-old
c. An ‘average’ adult
d. A specialist in that field
I’m grateful to the inspiring Australian presenter, Glen Capelli for planting the seed which helped me to recognise the importance of being able to convey the same message to a range of different age-groups.
We could also change our groupings to cover different layers within our organisation. Or we could ask ourselves how we’d explain it to various stakeholders – directors, management, staff, customers, suppliers, SARS. How would we explain the same message to each of those? Do we understand our message clearly enough to provide it to all of these in an appropriate, coherent manner (even if it is intended for only one group at this time)?
3. Contributory and contradictory thinking
Explore the message further to make sure we have a depth of understanding. Can we expand on the content? In applying ‘contributory’ thinking we could start by confirming, for example: ‘I agree with the statement.’ Then you would add to the idea. ‘And it would also apply in the other contexts (like the leather industry)’.
Then use ‘contradictory’ thinking to examine the exceptions. ‘I agree with the concept, but for example, it would not apply in South Africa because our crime rate is too high.’
Do you remember the game that many of us played as children where messages had to be passed on to others? It was known by various titles including ‘broken telephone’. The more the message was transferred to sequential recipients, the more distorted the original message became. The game reflects reality.
After the first ‘gap’ the receiver does not have the content of the message exactly the same as the sender intended it and in passing it on, there will be additional gaps created between the new sender and each individual receiver. So again, our ‘middle man’ needs to make sure that:
• Their perception of the message is as close as possible to the original sender’s intention.
• They check to make sure their message is clear before passing it on to the next person.
CUTTING OUT THE ‘MIDDLE MAN’
What Netcare in South Africa has done very successfully at St Augustine’s hospital in Durban to overcome the problem of messages not being passed on, or messages not being passed on correctly, is that they have cut out the middle layer. So, messages go directly to 1800 staff members via SMS. By cutting down the number of people the message goes through, there are less ‘gaps’. In addition, people always have their phones with them and there is no delay. This concept is working very well for Netcare.
In this article we have spoken primarily about passing information to others directly. In a later article we’ll look at communication that is less ‘direct’, the kind that we need to use in building relationships. Quality conversation helps us to get to know people and also plays an important part in building trust. We all prefer to deal with people we know and trust. So, there we are introducing the element of how to become the ‘person of choice’.
The BEI four-hour workshop, ‘how to get your point across’ has been our ‘top seller’ for many years. We continuously improve the content. The results are phenomenal and those who attend public workshops often request that we then present ‘in house’ for companies. Diverse audiences have included doctors and nurses in the UK who found themselves promoted through their medical skills and with very little experience in managing trusts, hospitals or wards. Others have been IT technicians, University lecturers, salespeople.
At the EYES (Enhance Your Executive Skills) programme at the Oyster Box Hotel on August 18 2010, the topic was ‘How to get your point across’.