Effective communication is key for any business, be it between colleagues, management or with clients. In my experience, what many individuals find hard with communication is the variability between not only how they would interpret information, but knowing this can be vastly different depending on who they are communicating with. In this ultimate guide we will look through the science of communication in a business setting and get to the bottom of why there is a mismatch. Then, we will review ways in which communication can be adapted to offset this issue. Lastly, given at the time of writing, many businesses are experiencing different communication channels and challenges resulting from changing the way we do business since the onset of COVID-19. We will review methods to reduce this impact throughout our daily interactions.
The key to effective communication is understanding that all communicators come from their own experiences and position when communicating. As the first model (an adaptation of the Shannon-Weaver communication model) shows, communicator A will encode the message through their field of experience. This is what actually shapes the way that they communicate and how they put the message together.
Once “encoded” it can pass through any channel the message is being communicated (face to face, email, phone etc.), where it is decoded by communicator B. Through this communication process, generally there is noise, this could be distractions, or limitations of the communication method. An example of this being that you can generally get a much greater impression of a person’s intention of the message whilst talking face to face, than you can via email. This is from certain social cues, such as body language and tone of voice.
Lastly there is the viewpoints and experiences of the individuals where the message is encoded and decoded. Put simply, one person’s interpretation of a message may differ greatly than another’s.
These can all lead, quite simply, to a gap between the intended message, to the final message that has been received. It is this very gap which leads to ineffective communications.
Effective communication starts by understanding the fundamentals found within the first model and looks offset it’s weaknesses.
We must note, and understand that through whatever means, communicators are different. We encode and decode messages differently based purely on our personal views on the world, experiences and personality.
It is important to note, and accept that every channel creates noise, so any communication can be understood incorrectly, is always a possibility. Not only this, but diffferent channels create different levels of noise. Different individuals prefer different channels, so using the wrong one can make this even worse!
Where this second model is different, is that it creates a feedback and alignment loop between the communicators. Person A is checking and realinging their communication to Person B. Allowing the gap to be reduced and the true outcome to be delivered, rather than allowing the gap to linger. Whilst this is all great in theory, let’s take a look at what that means in the real world.
It’s always important to understand the theory, but ultimately, any theory must be put into action to have any effect. Armed with this new knowledge, lets have a look at how we can take the theory and apply it to real world situations to see how it can improve business communications and ultimately, outcomes.
When it comes to effective communication, to truly embrace the that not everyone communicates in the way that you do is an exceptional asset. Through a career, one of the greatest skills to develop is the ability to communicate with a wide range of different people effectively. For me, this comes from the understanding that everyone has their own set of values and experiences. That is the very basis of the communication variance, but also the foundation of bridging that gap. Take time to understand what position the person you are communicating with is coming from, what their goals are and how you can align your communication to their position.
Remembering that channels always bring with them a set amount of noise, how can we work to reduce such noise? One way is to reduce potential noise from communication is to choose the channel that best suits not only the individual, but the message. If we are implementing an important message, that is imperitive to be understood and taken seriously, email probably wouldn’t convey that message well. On the other hand, a face to face meeting would deliver that message much more clearly. Here it isn’t just the content of the message that is delivering that, but the channel.
Choosing a channel that the recipient prefers will also help noise, take time to understand how they wish to communicate. Voice is always prefereable with important information, this may need to be face to face, or it could be via popular video call applications such as Zoom, or just over the phone. Aligning this to your recipient will, undoubtedly, reduce the noise.
One thing that I have noticed personally that I suffer from is known as signal amplification bias. This essentially means I feel that I have communicated far more than I have actually communicated. Leaving others to fill in the gaps themselves, which sometimes, may not be in line with my own thinking.
I am sure many people have experienced this. You are in a conversation and talking away, when you drift off into your own mind and think about something. Then when you continue the conversation, everyone is looking at you, unable to piece together the steps you have taken in your mind. This is, in a way, signal amplification bias. Ensure in your communications you fill in those gaps.
If we look back through the model we can see that the second iteration includes a feedback loop. In any form of communication, to refine the outcomes utilising the feedback is impertive. Once the message has been sent, and received, it is important to understand if the receiver has decoded it in the way we expected. To do this, the first stage is to simply ask, have you understood what I was saying. The answer will be, invariably, yes. So that is of little value as a response, simply that it is a precursor, or an opening for the next phase. Ask for feedback and clarification on what the interpretation was.
Once this feedback and interpretation comes in, you can begin to ascertain to what level the message was truly received. The message may well have been received in the manner intended and the outcomes are aligned to expectation, fantastic, you don’t need to do anything. If not though, then some refining of the message and alignment is needed.
Examples of eliciting feedback can be simple questions such as:
Keep the questions open ended, i.e. not to a yes or no, to allow the recipient to actively decode and feedback the message you are giving them.
If you are still at odds with the outcomes delivered by the recipient and your expected outcomes, after gaining the feedback you can use this to refine the message. Asking for and eliciting such feedback allows you to easily enter the refining stage of communication. Here you can reiterate the message, considering the misinterpretation from the first communication. Then adjusting it for the recipient’s way of interpreting.