Communicate to be Understood, Not Just Heard

Communicate to be Understood, Not Just Heard

One of my favorite quotes from the famous Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, is: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone where, after listening for several minutes, you still haven’t figured out what their point is? This problem can occur both in verbal and written communication by long-winded speech or verbose writing.

Poor communication is commonplace.

Many times, poor communication is just an annoyance that doesn’t cause harm.  But there are times when poor communication can cause great damage. I’ve seen instances where team members “communicated” a project risk to their Scrum Master, Project Manager, or boss and left it at that.  Their attitude was that the issue had been communicated, and now “my work is done – it’s off my plate.” Unfortunately, that attitude often results in disastrous outcomes when the risk comes to fruition because the communication about it was not properly understood.

The problem is that communication isn’t simply “saying something.” Effective communication is conveying something in a way that it is properly received.

It helps cause the changes you are trying to influence. The success of the communication should be measured by the outcomes that it inspires and not by simply “getting it off your plate.”

Effective communication is primarily the responsibility of the communicator. While the receiver has responsibilities as well, the originator must ensure that what was communicated is properly received.  So how do we take responsibility for our communications?

  • Give people a reason to listen. Are you providing valuable or actionable information, or are you just spouting useless information? Not everyone needs the information you want to communicate. Make sure you are communicating to the right audience.
  • Stay on topic and don’t ramble. Get your point across succinctly. Using more words does not necessarily mean better communication. The more words you use, the less likely the receiver will retain the key information you want to convey. Most people will “tune out” or quit reading once they reach some threshold.
  • Confirm that what they heard is what you intended to communicate. Ask questions to ensure that what was communicated was understood correctly.  It is surprising how often the receiver hears something completely different from what you thought you said.
  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid jargon and metaphors that may be misunderstood.
  • Don’t communicate through other people. Every person between you and the one you are communicating with creates an opportunity for miscommunication.
  • Communicate face-to-face whenever possible. Face-to-face discussion shortens the time between a question and its answer. When we communicate via email, chat, or phone we can’t see the recipients’ facial expressions or body language. We don’t see their eyes roll or see them crossing their arms in a defensive posture. In today’s world, video is often the next best thing to face-to-face, but nothing beats an in-person conversation.

Good communication is one of the most important success skills you can develop.

So much of our work involves communication of one kind or another, and often the outcome of our work depends on how well we communicate. Take time to learn how to be understood, not just heard.  Your work results and even your career could very well depend on how well you are understood.

This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They may not represent the opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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Dwight Kingdon

Dwight Kingdon

Agile Coach, passionate about the values and principles that make agility successful and sustainable. Hooked on all things Agile – whether at work or home. @AgileDK

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