Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

How to Communicate So That Others Understand

Leaders share with the rest of the team the responsibility of sending clear, complete, and accurate messages. Of course, sending messages well is only one half of communication; listening and receiving the message accurately is the other half. However, the focus of this article is on the sender’s task of transmitting messages in ways that make it most likely they can be understood correctly.

Two essential typs of communication

Two types of information sharing are important for every team’s performance and growth.

1. Task-related, factual information. Factual information is needed to understand what is happening, to make good decisions, to carry out daily responsibilities, and to improve processes.

2. Process information. Team members must continually improve their ability to work together by sharing with each other ongoing open and honest feedback about how team member actions are affecting the performance of the rest of the team. The team needs to know about each other in order to develop the trust necessary to work together. Process feedback is not just criticism. Positive feedback should occur even more often, for it builds confidence and allows people to build on their strengths.

Principles of effective communication

1. Know and adapt to your audience.

Whether talking to an individual or group, consider such things as:

  • education level;
  • vocabulary;
  • gender;
  • age;
  • background of experiences.

Tailor your message to be most understandable to the receiver(s). Information should be shared in a language that is both understandable and “digestible.” Special dangers lurk in the use of professional jargon, lofty vocabularies, or in-house terms and abbreviations. Simplicity is the key. The words and accompanying nonverbal actions should also be “digestible;” that is, in a pure form that is easily consumed emotionally. Put-downs, sarcasm, emotionally-charged words, and orders are among the many behaviors virtually guaranteed to bring on a full-blown case of team member “indigestion.”

2. Be thorough and complete.

The team leader should not assume that the company grapevine or other “automatic” mechanisms have carried necessary news. They carry it, all right, but in a much distorted form. Managers and team members should be especially aware of the tendency to fail to share needed information during hectic times. (This, of course, means all the time, doesn’t it?)

3. Share main points clearly; add essential details.

Some people are “get to the bottom line” folks. They want to hear the main points, then know where to go if they want more information. Others want all the details. If you’re talking to a group, organize the material to accommodate both.

4. Use multiple communication channels.

Research shows that it takes approximately six repetitions before information really sinks in. In addition, different people learn in different ways. Convey important information several times, using written, verbal, and visual formats.

5. Communicate respectfully.

Any message is more understandable when it is communicated respectfully. When people are not feeling defensive, their listening channels are clear.

6. Honor good timing.

Another principle that creates effective information sharing is that of good timing. When information is shared, for example, in a rushed hallway conversation, in the middle of important business on other subjects, or when the sender or listener is emotionally upset, the chances of error are multiplied. Important information, particularly personal information among team members, should be shared at an appointed time in a private place.

7. Check for understanding.

Good communicators do not assume that listeners “got it.” They check to be sure that they’ve communicated in a way that accomplished clear understanding.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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