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What is communication?

March 11, 2011

Few would argue communication is not important. Most people agree that being a ‘good communicator’ is a good thing – a quick scan of current job ads reveals most organisations are actively looking to recruit ‘good communication skills’.

But when I ask people what they think communication is – coming up with a good definition can be surprising difficult. And it’s pretty hard to be good at something if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is.

If any readers are Latin scholars you’ve a head start. The word ‘communication’ comes from the Latin word communis meaning common.

It’s this commonness of understanding that we’re looking for when we’re communicating. If my understanding is the same as your understanding then we’re on the same page – we’ve effectively communicated.

Well that sounds pretty easy doesn’t it! But it takes a little more to make it work – it’s also helpful to understand the basics of how the communication process works.

If someone sends me a message of some sort, I first need to HEAR YOU, in other words actually receive the message, I then need to UNDERSTAND YOU and, if you want me to actually do something as a result of your communication, I need to TRUST YOU.

Also, understanding this simple process makes it easy to see why communication so frequently fails. For example:

  • I may not HEAR YOU if you send me a phone message but I’ve left my phone at home or your important email is not visible in the hundreds I receive daily or I’ve simply been missed off the distribution list. Maybe I see the message but I’m not in a suitable state of mind to take it in.
  • I may not UNDERSTAND YOU if the message is ambiguous or you use language I’m not familiar with. You may assume I have information that I don’t have or there is too much information for me to take in.
  • I may not TRUST YOU if I don’t respect you or if I’m fearful of you.

Keeping this simple process in mind will help you steer your communication through the endless barriers and pitfalls to get the common understanding you’re aiming for.

Happy communicating.

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