One can easily argue that honing our communications skills is one thing we can all do to increase our success and achieve the results that we want. It may not be the only thing we need to do, however, working on improving our communications skills and interpersonal interactions will always prove to be a positive and enlightening endeavor.
The communication gap is not just a generational phenomenon. It exists in every type of interaction – between parent and child, boss and employee, teacher and student, husband and wife, between siblings, friends, neighbors, colleagues and on and on... There is a constant struggle in our communications to have our message be perceived as we intended. If you have ever found yourself saying, “That is not what I meant” or “I believe you misunderstood what I was trying to convey”, then you have experienced the communication gap. The key is to create awareness around the fact that the gap exists and then work to modify your behavior to close the gap.
Here are four ways you can close the communication gap:1. State your intention
Before you start into an interaction, think about what it is you want to achieve from the conversation or discussion. Then state it up front. For example, “The reason I called this meeting is so we can address the recurring issue of missing deadlines. I want to work together to formulate a plan to enable us as a team to meet our deadline. Let’s not place blame or dwell on the past, let’s make a plan to address the challenges.” By stating your intention, it allows for others to better understand where you are coming from. You help to create the environment of positive intent and eliminate the need for others to second guess what you want to achieve through the conversation.2. Truly listen
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can all admit there are other things we are doing when someone else is talking to us. We may appear to be listening, but instead what we are really doing is thinking about how we are going to respond (occasionally we may also be working on our grocery list...). To truly listen, we need to be present. To be present means we need to be mindful of the moment we are in, not the moment that is coming next. It is a natural human desire to want to be heard. If you have ever walked away from a conversation with the feeling that the other person did not hear a word you said (yes, parents everywhere are able to relate to this!), then you know how disrespectful it feels. On the other hand, if we know the other person has taken the time and effort to listen to understand our position, then we feel valued and respected. In acknowledging that each of us desires to be heard, move to model the behavior you would like to see in others!3. Summarize for understanding
We all interpret our surroundings and other people’s behaviors through our own lens. This is what causes the communication gap. So, if we state our intention, then truly listen to what others have to offer, then the next step is to ensure that we understand what the other person is trying to convey by their communications. No need to recant word for word what someone has said, instead, summarize it in your own words. It may sound like this: “So, I am understanding you to say that the reason you are so frustrated is because you do not feel appreciated, am I understanding what you shared correctly?” Saying this does two things – it shows you were listening and trying to understand (see #2) and it also provides the other person the opportunity to clarify their message if you did not understand what they meant correctly, subsequently enhancing the success of the communication.4. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
We are emotional beings. A plethora of research exists that indicates that we are wired for human connection and social interactions. However, too often we only experience our own emotions and do not consider that the other person is also experiencing emotions that are affecting the interaction. Try to stop and think about what might be going on for the other person. What is important to that person right now? Ask, what I call, the killer question: “What would help you to feel more comfortable in moving forward in this situation?” Make the question appropriate to the situation. In doing so, it will help you to understand what is important to the other person right now. Knowing what’s important to the other person will enable you to address it or at least allow them to be heard and for you to acknowledge the concern.
Remember, we all want to be heard! In being heard, we feel valued, in feeling valued, we feel respected and respect builds trust. Trust, in turn, enables us to build rapport and decrease the communication gap.