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Don't Do What I Say, Do What I Mean To Say
By Jack Donohue   Printer Friendly Version

It seems like everyone is talking about communication these days ... but is anybody listening? There are three major components of communication: the sender, the receiver, and the message. As the sender, you have control over, and information about, only two of these components: the message, and your delivery of that message. The way that your message is received is beyond your control, and for the most part, difficult to assess without assistance from the receiver.

There is no shortage of information on communication and the dynamics thereof. Magazines and newspapers constantly bombard us with statistics and percentages, but what do they tell us that we can use in everyday business communication?

First, the process of effective communication is interactive. The most effective form of communication is verbal, face to face, and one-on-one. This scenario provides for maximum interaction between the sender and receiver, allowing the receiver to provide feedback on the message and the receiver's interpretation of the message. This feedback is essential to the communication process; without it, the message may be misunderstood, and numerous problems may ensue. The quality of the interaction between receiver and sender is what differentiates effective and ineffective communication.

Second, the feedback from the receiver may be as important as, or even more important than, the initial message. The sender may find out, through the feedback received, that the issue is no longer pertinent, that the information being transmitted is not clear or explicit enough for action, or that the information being transmitted is not what the receiver wants to hear. These are all important cues for the sender to pick up on. They determine the effectiveness of the communication of the message between the sender and the receiver.

Attending to available feedback cues allows the sender, and the receiver, to gauge the effectiveness of the communication. Depending on the nature of the feedback provided, the sender may adapt the message and/or it's delivery in a variety of ways. If the information being transmitted is no longer pertinent, then new message (or no message) may be appropriate. If the information is not clear, then fine tuning the message and ensuring its comprehension may well save time, money and effort. If the receiver is not receptive to the message, then the sender has a different selection of options. She may decide to reinforce the importance of the message, refine the message, or even adapt the message to make it more palatable to the receiver.

This interplay between the sender and receiver of messages can be very complicated. There are so many different components to the message (the words we say, how we say them, the tone of our voices, the emphasis put on certain words, body language, etc.), it is small wonder that we ever manage to communicate effectively at all.

Of course, the feedback provider must remember that, when providing feedback, they have reversed the roles, and have taken the position of sender. Now the new sender must be aware of the feedback provided by the new receiver.

The intent of this short treatise is to make you aware of some of the problems in one area of communication. There are numerous others. Let us help you explore how to overcome them.


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