What is communication?

I can hear you say what a silly question: everyone knows what communication is BUT do they?

You may think communication is about talking and listening (or for some just talking and talking even over other people!).

But it’s more than talking and listening, it’s about thinking – you know the phrase think before you speak? But few of us perhaps do that and the words are out of our mouths before we can think.

Great if these are kind words said in the spur of the moment but what about the ‘not so nice’ words – the ones that upset others. Some who use these words will often say to you ‘Oh I’m only joking’ but saying something nasty is never a joke. Bullies use this technique and no matter the situation, at home, at work, with friends, it’s never acceptable.

Communication is also about understanding that when someone is talking to or with you they may not necessarily want you to reply – they just want you to listen and ‘take in’ to their mind what you are saying. You might not want to hear that but take a moment to think about when you have responded or even ‘jumped in’ with your reply at the wrong moment.

I developed what I call my Effective Communication/Listening Model which is easy to read but often more difficult to actually use! There are four steps which can be repeated any number of times until everyone involved in the communication understands the conversation and what action to take if required.

Step 1: Focus and attend – this sounds easy but just think of the number of times you have been doing something else while someone is talking to you or your mind is elsewhere as they are speaking to you. Take a moment to think about that – for example, perhaps you were cooking while the children were speaking to you, or someone at work is speaking to you and you are looking at your computer or wondering what you are going to have for dinner! Sound familiar? When someone is speaking, stop what you are doing, what you are thinking and focus – look at them, make eye contact and listen carefully then take

Step 2: Acknowledge – now this does not mean answering with any words or saying yes or no etc. It means engaging with the other person with a nod of the head or a small movement to show you are effectively listening then take

Step 3: Clarify – yes clarify. How many times to you finish a conversation with someone and then realise that you didn’t really listen and not sure what you or the other person are supposed to do now? Often we don’t fully understand what someone is saying or asking us to do but rather than perhaps upset them you just move on without knowing what the full conversation was about. This often happens at work but can happen at home, in relationships and with friends. So if you don’t understand something ask them to repeat until you do understand. The other individual might want this to so everyone is clear on what the conversation is about. Then take

Step 4: Respond – now this does NOT mean saying yes or no. When you think about the conversation and are not sure how to respond then that’s how you respond – you say I’m not sure if I can do that, give me time to think about it and I will get back to you or some similar words. Of course remember to get back to them! This then takes us back to step 1 and so on until everyone is clear on what is happening.

When you use these steps, it gives you time to think before you speak – it also helps everyone involved know where they stand! I found it particularly useful in work situations, committee meetings, board meetings and so on.

Happy communicating, listening and thinking everyone.


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