I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that more problems and misunderstandings throughout history have been caused by lack of communication than anything else. These days, it seems like more and more people think “communication” involves shouting louder than the other person. Um, no. That’s not communication; that’s chaos.
Communication between two parties involves accurate—not exaggerated—information flowing in both directions, being imparted and received (that’s a common stumbling block) by both parties, not just one. Good communication is vital for the success of any relationship, whether it’s personal, or business, or even relationships between governments.
Truly effective communication involves four parts (three physical, one mental): the tongue, the ears, the brain, and empathic comprehension (empathy). Going along with those four parts are these four steps, listed from least to most important:
- Make sure the other person hears your point of view. (Tongue)
- This is not about shouting louder than the other person. It means giving a calm, clear, and concise presentation of your position.
- Listen to the other person’s point of view. (Ears)
- Listen to what they’re saying; focus on their words. Don’t spend the time while they’re talking thinking about what your reply is going to be.
- Make sure you understand the other person’s point of view. (Brain)
- Make sure you’re both on the same topic. There’s no point trying to have a conversation if you’re talking about two different things.
- Make a concerted effort to understand why the other person holds to their point of view. (Empathy)
- This is the most important part of real communication: understanding why the other person feels the way they do. Often called “putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes.”
Another important piece of the puzzle is to try to find common ground first, instead of focusing on, and fighting over, your differences. For example, let’s look at the ongoing gun debate in our country right now.
- Person A wants to lower the number of gun fatalities, and believes placing greater restrictions on who is allowed to own guns is the solution.
- Person B wants to lower the number of gun fatalities, and believes proper training in the use of guns and how to handle them correctly is the solution.
- Person C wants to lower the number of gun fatalities, and believes harsher punishments for anyone using a gun to commit a crime is the solution.
- Person D wants to lower the number of gun fatalities, and believes banning private gun ownership is the solution.
The way the arguments usually run today is people arguing about how to reduce the number of gun fatalities and becoming combative with different opinions. Each participant thinks the others aren’t listening to what they’re saying, all the while not realizing that they themselves are also not listening to the other viewpoints.
Regardless of your personal viewpoint on the matter, what should be recognized first of all is that all four viewpoints want the same outcome: fewer gun fatalities. If all four parties can recognize their end goal is the same, and remain focused on that, it becomes much easier to have a rational, civil discussion (instead of arguing over the best methods to use to attain a goal that everyone wants in the first place).
This applies to all disagreements. If at all possible, find a point of agreement so that you can continue the debate with the realization that you are on the “same page” on at least one part of the matter at hand. Then follow the four steps outlined above. Although there is no guarantee your differences can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, at least finding the common ground and making an effort to understand the other viewpoint(s) gives you a better chance of having a productive discussion, rather than an angry argument.
One final thought. Communication is not just about what you say and hear. It’s also about the visual signals you send and receive. If someone says to you, “Okay, let’s hear your view,” but their arms are crossed over their chest and their chin is up in a defiant position, do you really think they’re open to hearing your side? Are you going to feel like your words are being heard? Or are you going to feel like you’re wasting your time? The same goes for you. Don’t take up a “battle stance” when you’re supposed to be listening to another person’s viewpoint. Make the effort to open up both your body and your mind, and you just might hear something that makes you reconsider your position.
What do you think? Let’s talk.
Here are a few resources on Communication: