Communicate to be understood | FOW #9

Communicate in the least complicated way, so that your audience understands you. This applies to all communication: spoken, written, illustrated, etc. We are accountable for what people take from our communication.

A plane crash in the Canary Islands killed 583 people due to miscommunication between the pilot and air traffic control.

The pilot of one plane thought he had clearance from air traffic control, so took off, crashing into another plane. Though certainly an extreme instance, the catastrophe is nevertheless an example of one person misunderstanding the meaning of the other. Though hopefully with less extreme consequences, we all have the opportunity to be misunderstood in our communications every day.

We tend to think that if we are misunderstood, the fault lies with the audience.

We may attribute others’ misunderstanding to their lack of attention, lack of focus, language differences, preexisting prejudices or even – arrogantly – lack of intelligence.

In truth, any of those conditions may exist, but this does not absolve you from the responsibility of being understood.

In one-on-one communication, making certain you are understood can be accomplished in many ways:

  • Speak the other person’s “language”, using terms, phrases and examples which will help relate your meaning to their experience and perspective
  • Listen to responses indicating understanding or lack thereof
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues for the same feedback
  • Request a summary from the listener of what they heard

Ensuring understanding in a larger group takes more effort on your part. The first three points above still apply. In addition, asking for questions will allow you the opportunity to clarify your points. Most importantly, when planning your talk, remember to structure it according to the one basic rule of public speaking:

  • Tell the audience what you intend to say
  • Say it
  • Tell them what you said

It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what your listener understands.

Perception is reality.

Best regards,

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