How’s your communication?
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
– George Bernard Shaw.
Few of us would dispute that communication is an essential foundation element in any organisation. Without effective communication, there is no teamwork, no coordination of workflow, no customer service, no… well, no business, really. Strategising, feedback, marketing, training & learning, whatever your line or work or endeavour, effective communication is the universal must-have, no exceptions.
As such, it receives a lot of attention. Businesses often review and ‘improve’ how they can communicate more effectively: briefings, email, messaging, websites, user communities, customer interactions and so on. The focus is often on using the right methods and strategies, the channels, the content, the core messages, resulting engagement levels, on and on. But even when a strategy is allegedly ‘audience-focused’, the results are less than stellar. Which brings us to the above GBS quotation…
The communication illusion
We focus on the audience for our communication: their preferences, their priorities, and we convince ourselves that we understand them, strategise accordingly and then believe we have communicated effectively. But have we really connected?
Shaw’s statement perfectly encapsulates the pitfall of doing all the right things, ticking the right boxes on some imaginary ‘effective communication checklist’ and assuming that the results will follow. The more removed we are from our audience, the more likely the disconnect, the stronger the illusion can be. Which brings us to another quotation.
“Change is only possible between equals”
– Robert Anton Wilson
This sounds deep, profound and probably true. But what does it mean? Does true equality exist, really? In reality, there’s always a disparity between two people, especially in a business context: worker and boss, supplier and user, leader and follower, designer and user, high salary and lower salary, more experienced and less experienced… And that’s without even touching on the endless examples of inequality baked into any society (and by extension, any organisation).
So are our communication efforts always doomed, according to RAW? Well, if there’s a hierarchy, there’s inequality, and that becomes a factor. To use a simple team-based example: it’s always a temptation to tell the boss what you know they want to hear.
Rather than think about what we are (background, roles, responsibilities, context, ambitions) it’s more about how we decide to view each other. If you communicate from a position of perceived inequality, the communication will suffer.
Perhaps the secret lies in whether we let inequalities in status affect how we treat each other. If we view the other person(s) as if we are equal the communication is at least likely to be (more) honest. If whatever the context, whatever the relative positions, values, motivations and experience, we assume that the other person’s perspective is valid (and it is, even if only to them in their worldview) they are more likely to receive the message that we want to impart.
If your communication is to find and reach them, you have to first know and accept where they are.
Perhaps at the end of the day, it’s a questions of empathy? We can’t ignore the inequality inherent in the system, hierarchy or relationship. But we can at least attempt to empathise.
Back to George Bernard Shaw, the best way to avoid being deluded (or if you prefer, ‘mistaken’) about the effectiveness of our communication is to better understand and involve our audience.
So far, so philosophical. But if any of this has provoked a thought or two (or a concern) and you’re wondering how to take a practical approach to improving your communication, Maximum is offering a free 45-minute webinar on Communication Skills on 5 March, at 10:00am GMT; covering stages of communication, common challenges and misunderstandings, and the four steps to communicating well. Register here or if you want to know how else we can help support you with excellent communication, give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.