A failure to communicate

May 11, 2018

Almost everyone who’s seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke, can recall the classic line by Strother Martin, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” This classic phrase illustrates a lack of effective communication because of an unwillingness to listen. Communication breaks down when someone ceases to hear what others are saying.

I’ll never forget the first time I tried to teach my daughter how to write code for software. For me, it was as obvious as to how one eats a slice of chocolate cake. But, to a ten-year-old girl, I was failing miserably. To my daughter’s credit, she did her best to assure me that I was communicating, but her glazed eyes indicated I was hypnotically inducing sleep rather than comprehension. I realized that I needed a more effective approach.

Most of us have very little difficulty talking, but doing so clearly can be a challenge. Clear communication is a skill that requires practice and study. Some people have a natural talent for communication; they instinctively know how best to drive, motivate and inspire others effectively. Learning this practice takes time, commitment, and effort.

Struther Martin in “Cool Hand Luke”

The effective communicator recognizes the essential importance of listening. Just because someone is a good talker doesn’t mean they have the ability to communicate. Communication is defined as the sharing, or exchange of information, and this requires listening.

The keys to effective communication are simple to use and unlock many barriers. Here are several basic tools to assist you.

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Good listening skills include facing the speaker, maintaining eye contact and acknowledging what’s said by employing a timely nod or a simple yes.

However, in this age of technology, we have web-based tools that require a different technique. Technology allows virtual meeting rooms bridging distance and time. In some instances, there is no visual feedback, so it’s imperative to take notes on what is being spoken, identify who the speaker is, be ready to ask for clarification, acknowledge understanding the subject at hand.

These steps are just as effective when used in a live face-to-face discussions.

Effective communication is compromised by inattentiveness, boredom, disinterest or a negative attitude. The use of language which criticizes demeans, or complains does nothing to encourage others to listen. An effective communicator recognizes that to reach others, they must exude a positive attitude that touches others. When you’re positive, you become a magnet for a listening audience.

Repeating an important point helps memory and re-enforces the speaker’s point of reference or comment. When you echo what someone says, it lets them know you heard them correctly and reassures the speaker that the listener understands what was spoken. Effective communication doesn’t require you to be able to repeat every word spoken, but recalling the important points is essential.

There may be situations when taking notes is not practical, or productive.  This requires developing the skill to memorize keywords. You will be amazed at how your skill develops as you begin to practice​ memorization.

An effective communicator employs various methods to engage their audience. These methods include smiling, nodding, and at times mirroring the audience, however, the speaker’s intentions must be clearly defined so as not to confuse, or alienate the audience. For instance, touching an individual can communicate inappropriate intimacy. Laughing when sincerity is expected can signal disrespect, judgment, and disinterest. Knowing who your audience is, and their emotions will help you to sync with them.

Feigned sincerity mocks effective communication. People easily recognize insincerity no matter how well you attempt to mask it. If you’re going to be an effective communicator, you’ve got to value your audience. What they say to you is just as important (possibly more so) than what you have to say.  When you value the person speaking to you, you also value what they say.  When a person senses that you’re sincere about listening to them, they will be willing to listen to you.

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