Communication is a unique process that focuses on the relationship between both sender and receiver. How do we know when our messages have been received? How do we know what we have said has been heard the way we intended? Lack of effective communication—the ability of the receiver to understand exactly the message that the sender intended to send—is often the cause of many failed organizations and relationships within them.
For the secrets to effective communication, we turn to looking deeper into this sender-receiver model when conveying information and meaning with the goal to minimize and avoid misunderstanding and conflict. Perception is a crucial factor to understanding how well we both craft messages, and how well we listen to their meaning.
Think of the last time you and your five friends went to the movies. You all sat right next to each other to enjoy the latest motion picture adventure. When the movie was over, you all discussed what you saw. Then you all began to wonder what movie everyone else saw, despite that you were all sitting right next to each other the entire time! What gives?
Communication relies not only on the sender sending a message—think of this as sending the old Morse code. To decode the message, the receiver must understand the rules of Morse code. Understanding the rules is another way to explain the idea of context. Each of us has our own ways of creating and understanding meaning. However, since no two people ever have exactly the same experiences, we all tend to focus on different elements or different aspects of the movie like with our five friends. Therefore, we all did see the same movie; however we didn’t all interpret and decode the messages in exactly quite the same way. As a result, this area of context often is the point at which confusion and misinterpretation can happen.
As managers, we spend “about 40% of our time communicating” (as cited in Lussier & Achua, 2010, p. 190). Since one of the aspects of leadership is about influencing others, understanding the importance of communication in building relationships that foster effective communication becomes quite clear. We must take great care within the proper context so as to get the job done.
The two questions we need to consider are:
(1) Who’s your audience? and (2). What’s your message?
When we begin with the end in mind—the outcome we intend for the message—we can then look for the most appropriate way to send this message for our audience to correctly interpret as we intend.
As leaders, our goal is to look at the methods we use to communicate so that we use the right tool for the job. If we every time we send a message, we take into consideration what we want to happen as a result of the message (outcome), and we take time to consider our receiver (our audience), our likelihood of both sides being in agreement is increased. Message is received and understood.
Let’s turn our attention to the types of communication styles that leaders can use as well. First, leaders can often be a coach, to provide feedback to help a follower improve and move forward. Being an effective coach helps develop a supportive working relationship where successful communication is crucial to success. Leaders must also be able to give praise and recognition, to focus on helping one’s follower to increase effective behavior and avoid ineffective behavior. Learning to communicate by giving specific and descriptive feedback in a positive way is an important skill worth cultivating.
Leaders can also mentor. This is a specific kind of relationship that offers advice from a leader with more experience for a lesser experienced follower. This collaboration can often form a strong bond between mentor and mentee that often benefits far more than simply the outcome in the business setting.
Now let’s look at the barriers to communication. What gets in the way of our messages being understood the way we intend them? One of these challenges is the idea of listening. What makes an effective listener? “In reality, 75% of what people hear, they hear imprecisely—and 75% of what they hear accurately, they forget within three weeks” (Lussier & Achua, 2010, p. 194). Listening is a skill that creates trust and value in relationships. Isn’t it wonderful when our message connects with someone they way we intend? Isn’t it a challenge when our message doesn’t?
Part of our many goals as leaders is to make sure that we listen to our followers. Our purpose is-to accurately and precisely understand what they are trying to tell us, and for them in turn to correctly and precisely understand what we are trying to tell them. Communication is a two-way process where each side of the equation must take great care to encode and decode the messages so that each one will be able to correctly understand—and communicate clearly the wants, desires, and organizational outcomes that move businesses forward.
The next time you send a message, make sure that you (1) use the most effective medium (be it email, cell phone, or Morse Code), (2) understand what you want to accomplish (outcome), and (3) understand your audience to ensure that what you are conveying to them will be correctly understood and acted upon. Remember to be sure to clarify with the person you are communicating—be it via texting, Facebook or face-to-face—that they understand your message in exactly the same way that you intended.
Lussier, R., & Achua, C. (2010). Leadership: Theory, application & skill development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.
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