Who Bears the Weight of Effective Communication?

Late last year, I had the pleasure of sitting through a company mandated class on effective communication. When the class began, I expected it to be similar to much of the work studied in my industrial/organizational psychology classes that emphasized effective communication being a two way street. Boy was I wrong.

The speaker was actually someone I reached out to a couple weeks prior, and was praised as a major influencer within the company from someone I highly respect. He is part of the learning and development team, with about twenty years of experience in his field. I introduced myself and he was as warm and inviting in person as he was over the phone.

At the start of the presentation, we discussed the basics of communication with what can be described as the linear model of communication. The big question was, “Where does the burden of effective communication lie and why?” Is it the sender, the message or the receiver?

The answers varied in many ways from my colleagues. I responded that most of the responsibility lies on the sender and some on the receiver. I also mentioned that the content of the message also mattered, because sometimes no matter how well you try to deliver a message, you can never predict how the individual on the receiving end will respond or react.

His answer surprised us all. He believed that all the responsibility lies on the sender. Yes. He believes that 100 percent of the responsibility of effective communication lies on the sender. The number of raised eyebrows in the room was 100 percent, because many people disagreed and were perplexed by his point of view. I could read the questions lined across the creased foreheads of my coworkers.

But, “What do you mean I fully bear the responsibility as a sender of a message?” So, “You mean it is my fault if someone doesn’t understand or receive my message?” “Do you think that I have that much power over a person’s reaction to my comments?” Oh and the downright, “Is this man for real?”

From the minute these words came out of his mouth, people began voicing their concerns and contending with his statement. There were no holes barred. They questioned his logic left right and center. I even pointed out that sometimes the ethics of the person delivering the message can severely compromise the message and therefore its delivery. It’s like if Harvey Weinstein were to deliver a speech on curbing sexual harassment in the workplace. No one would listen.

“Most of the time, people listen to respond, rather than listen to comprehend. The inverse needs to occur.”

It may not always be as extreme as this. It could simply be a supervisor who displays favoritism to select employees even though their work ethic is poor, but yet raises his concerns to an amazing employee who made a rare mistake. The employee may become indifferent or quite annoyed and unable to receive what the supervisor has to say. Is he saying the supervisor can really own 100 percent of the responsibility of effectively communicating what may indeed be a valid concern?

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

I sat an listened, trying to take in his perspective. He explained, that most of the time, people listen to respond rather than listen to comprehend. The inverse needs to occur. Rather than being reactionary, listen to comprehend. If you do not comprehend, ask the appropriate questions, giving the sender an opportunity to clarify his/her statement. This part is crucial and essential for effective communication.

“It is important to make sure your delivery gives the best possible outcome.”

He further elaborated that how you respond to the message received makes a world of difference. In all kinds of relationships, there is a lot of emphasis on the adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Whether you are communicating at work or home, it is important to make sure that your delivery gives the best possible outcome (the why of effective communication). Bullying a subordinate to give better quality work is not going to necessarily increase performance, but rather create a resentful, angry, and possibly underperforming employee whose wellness will diminish.

As he continued to speak, and with examples, I realized he made a strong argument. I may not fully buy into the 100 percent responsibility—maybe 90 percent—on the sender. As he explained, with his many years of experience, whenever he came to the final step of having to fire someone, the individual always walked out thanking him and an understanding that he invested everything he could in ensuring that it never got to this step.

He recognized early on that he bears the responsibility of effective communication every time he delivers a message. I came out of this presentation having a better perspective of effective communication. I now practice the three most important things which are listen to comprehend, be mindful of how I respond, and make sure my words result in the best possible outcome.

Just remember, you may not get it right every time, but keep trying. It is a process that you have the opportunity to fine tune and become better at. While doing so, remember the golden rule, do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.

(Photos: top photo WordPress Free Images and second photo Businesstopia)

2 thoughts on “Who Bears the Weight of Effective Communication?

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