Many years ago we pinched a really good phrase from a BT initiative they ran back in the 1990s:
Miscommunication is the norm.
The basis of this rather stark phrase is that communication goes wrong a lot - perhaps even as much as it goes right.
And why is that?
It's unlikely you'll remember way back to your childhood (perhaps you will!), but that's when the foundations for how we communicate were laid.
Right now, I have five year old twins in my life and it's like being in a communications laboratory watching how they learn to communicate.
Of course, there are the magic words, please and thank you that are drummed in whenever they need reminding. However, there's so much more that's going into their very plastic brains: how the adults around them communicate, how they learn to resolve conflict, how they deal with their competitiveness, how they are encouraged to express their feelings and let the adults know what's happening. I observe them learning to lie, to exaggerate, to negotiate.
Teaching children to communicate 'well' is a constant process, constant reminding, constant reinforcing till, at some point, they will hopefully acquire healthy communication skills. What also strikes me is that good communication 'should' be a constant process for everyone; we should be refreshing our skills often, gaining new insights and strengthening our ability to manage challenging situations.
What's far more common is that we unconsciously learn how to communicate when we're young and that's it; we carry those particular skills into adulthood even if they aren't always appropriate or healthy.
And that's why it goes wrong so much of the time - we often respond to situations as if we were five (irrationally) or ten ('it's not fair") or fifteen (stroppy and stubborn) rather than as mature adults.
Communication is a complex process of expressing a thought or feeling in such a way that other people understand what you are trying to convey. Mostly, we communicate from our point of view. The additional complexity is that other people will be hearing your communication from their point of view. That's all fine if your points of view are in sync.
Far more often, points of view are different - from slightly different to massively out of sync. That's when someone is most likely to get the wrong end of the communication stick and when we are most likely to misunderstand and to be misunderstood.
In our experience, one of the best skills you can learn to improve your communication is to develop the ability not only to see other points of view but to then incorporate those points in view in the way you talk or write to other people.
There are many more skills that will help you become a better communicator, but if you can start with that one and keep practising it, your communication skills will improve dramatically.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory