"The limits of my language are the limits of my world..."
When was the last time you had a conversation at work, at home or just when out and about during which you fully remember what you said and you said exactly what you meant, but the other party took something totally different from it?
Probably not that long ago and for some this happens regularly.
So exactly what is going on and how can we ensure that in future we are capable of holding winning conversations as and when we chose? Hopefully this article will give you some insight into the mechanisms of communication and how you can improve your ability to convey your message effectively and efficiently.
(You can scroll to the takeaways at the bottom if you would like to skip the science bit...)
We start with the intention of the Sender to communicate a message - the Sender's perspective is their own world view - shaped by their experiences, values, personality and knowledge. They will then encode this message and send it to the Receiver.
The Receiver first has to decode this message - to take from it their own interpretation, again based on their personal world view before deciding whether there is an intention to reply. If so, they will encode their response and send it, at which point the cycle begins again.
Both Sender and Receiver communicate based upon their subjective perception of reality. Importantly, this is not reality, it is the individual’s model of reality based on the individual’s experiences and knowledge (Bandler, 2008; Hargie, Dickson & Dennis, 2004). Each individual’s own model of reality might be different, which makes communication both important and challenging. The process results in a subjectively experienced alliance, which implies a mutual understanding of one another’s different worlds.
Purpose & Intention
Habermas (1968) argues that the search for information and knowledge could be characterized by three universal intentions: control, common understanding and reflections. Understanding that there are three universal intentions when one communicates is important, because inter-human dialogue is characterized by the intentions that people have towards one another in the meetings.
Control. Is the sender’s intention to control the other person and influence him or her in a certain direction. Instructions are used to influence others in specific directions. An instruction is a direction or order that is communicated to an individual that will influence the individual to either act or move in a certain direction. An instruction can include telling people a specific behavior that should be performed, the level of proficiency that should be achieved, or the level of proficiency that a performer should achieve in a desired skill or activity (Hargie, 2006; Wein- berg & Gould, 2007).
Common understanding. Or, is the sender’s intention to understand the other person and develop a common understanding about a given situation? One is able to predict an intention to achieve common understanding between individuals, when there is communication that is based on open-ended questions and active listening (Ivey & Ivey, 2006). Open- ended questions generally start with who, what, how, where and when and are advantageous because they encourage both descriptive and detailed answers from the receiver (Ivey & Ivey, 2006). Furthermore, open questions give the receiver the power to generate rich descriptions with regards to his or her own experiences, feelings and interpretations. In this way, the sender is given the opportunity to achieve a deeper understanding of the receiver’s perspective. Listening is a fundamental part of attending skills and active listening is the most important attending skill (Kvalsund, 2006). The receiver needs to know that the sender has heard and understood what he or she has been saying, seen his or her point of view, and has an understanding of the receiver’s perspective as he or she experiences it.
Reflections. Or, is the sender’s intention to stimulate the other to discover something new through reflective practice, so that he or she can be liberated from unfortunate unconscious behavior? When the sender uses powerful questioning, the receiver is invited to enter into a mental exercise, establishing awareness, reflecting, considering, evaluating and making decisions that relate to the information that is being discussed. When a sender actively listens and attends to the receiver, both the sender and receiver are focused on the dialogue and its complexities. In order for both individuals to have a deep understanding of one another, it is essential that each individual is actively engaged in both power questioning and active listening.
So what can we take from this understanding of the communication process and how can we use it to influence our own winning conversations:
- Bear in mind how easy it is to make assumptions about people and events, to draw inferences from these – and for the assumptions and inferences to be incorrect.
- Remember that there are two sides to most stories and that we need to be skillful in eliciting the real concerns, needs and issues of others who may see things differently, whose behaviour we may think abnormal and whom we may think are irrational.
- Consider that we infrequently really listen to what someone else is saying and that we often miss the real gems in a conversation or dialogue because we are already encoding our next response.
- Understand that to get our point across we tend to assert our position: how much more we can achieve by asking carefully formulated and focused questions, drawing others out and helping them to see our point of view.
- Every word of every message we send should be carefully considered for its impact on the receiver, given our understanding of their reality - the more we understand, the more we can tailor our message to have the impact we are looking to create.
I hope the above article has given you food for thought about the way you communicate and how you could improve your ability to make a message hit home. If you would like to develop your communication skills further please contact us by clicking here to enquire about our coaching and mentoring services...