Much has been written on the importance of effective communication for success in our jobs and our personal relationships. Communication touches every aspect of what we do in a given day. Every day, we communicate verbally, in written format and non-verbally through our body language. If we do so much of it, how is it that we make so many mistakes? 

The problem starts with our approach. We are so focused on delivering a message that we do not always think of the personality, gender or culture of the receiver of the message when we compose our thoughts and transmit them.

We approach others and choose words based on our personal life experience and communication style and expect the receiver to understand exactly what we are “trying” to say, leaving us extremely frustrated when “they don’t get it”.

Secondly, we filter and “listen” to their response based on our personal interpretation of what they say, often not actually hearing the message being passed as we are too tuned in to the internal dialogue in our own heads — “I don’t agree with him there, I know he’s wrong”.   

We are left wondering why a person is being so difficult and perceive that they are deliberately not listening to us. We think we are making perfect sense and are clear in our words and delivery. Belief and perception become reality and we now have a full-blown conflict between both parties based on our inability to communicate. Does this sound familiar?

If all of that wasn’t complex enough, add to our challenge the complexity of the world we now live in. With globalisation and the ease and availability of multiple levels of communication channels for us to speak to one another, many of us have an even greater communication challenge.

Today’s organisation expects us to be able to communicate well regardless of gender, culture or age and is judging our capabilities and performance based on our success in communicating effectively.

The whole point of communication is to express ideas in a clear, concise and easily understood manner to a variety of audiences. If half of our problem is our approach, let us look at some solutions to improve our communication capabilities:

Become self-aware

Be open to feedback. Are you getting your message across or only being understood by people like yourself?  What is your tone? How do you think you are being perceived?

What is your body language saying? Get feedback from your friends and peers and learn about their perception of your abilities.

Natural style

Men use more “report talk” and are more direct in their style. Women often adapt this approach in business to be able to be understood but naturally are more inclined to use communication to build relationships and familiarity. Before you speak, look at the person you are speaking with to gauge their natural style.

Non-verbal hints

Watch their body language — do they look interested? Are their arms crossed or their body pointing away from you? Stop, look, listen to their body language and alter the tone and content of your message so they start “hearing” you.

Cultural cues

Remember, the language you are communicating in may not be their mother tongue or yours.

Are you using too many words?  Words with multiple meanings? Is your tone appropriate?

The more we learn about each other’s culture, the more effectively we will communicate. Ask questions about their experiences and culture.  Get to know each other. People love to talk about themselves and will be happy to educate you.

Respect opinions

The key here is respect. We all want to be respected for our opinion, no matter if we are young or old. None of us has the perfect answer and not one of us is always right.

If you’re young, don’t assume someone older hasn’t considered your solution before. If you’re older, listen to hear a new approach.

Switch approach

Tailor your conversation to the individual. Think of culture, age, personality and communication style, gender, format and the timing of your message.

Learn to “switch styles” for each person to communicate effectively.