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The meaning of communication is the response you get

Ever said something and been baffled by the response from the other person. It happens often to people. Someone will think they have explained something really clearly, and then can't understand why somebody then does something different. The most common response is to think they have deliberately ignored you, or that somehow they are 'stupid'. But what if you stopped for a moment and asked yourself 'what was it that led them to do what they did?' It certainly opens up the possibility that your communication had a part to play in the outcome.

I hold Time to Talk sessions regularly with my staff teams, although they might be better described as Time to Listen sessions. I love to hear stuff straight from the horse's mouth so to speak. It gives me the chance to see if the corporate truth, the one that we tell ourselves in leadership sessions, is actually experienced by staff at all levels. Its so easy to make assumptions, and actually its just as easy to take some small steps to go and find out directly. If its something you haven't done before then be prepared, you might hear some things you would prefer not to be true, and remember that once you know about them, then you can start to change things that really need changing.

Mostly when we say things, we know what it is that we mean. Trouble is, for a whole host of reasons, what people hear, and remember, turns out to be very different at times. So how much responsibility do you take for how you communicate? When you are in a hurry, and have loads of stuff on your mind, and a colleague is talking to you about their ideas, can you honestly say that you give them your undivided attention? Explore their suggestions with them? Or dismiss them quickly?

I've been listening to a number of colleagues expressing frustration with their manager, and they repeatedly described them as 'hierarchical'. Yet when you meet and talk to the manager, nothing could seem further from the truth. So what is going on? Firstly they are all being truthful from their own perspective. An interesting concept I know, and one that some people struggle with. It is possible for people who hold different opinions to both be simultaneously right and wrong at the same time, and it comes down to perspective. In this case the manager does not see themselves as hierarchical, they believe they are inclusive and want their team to grow and develop, and take responsibility for things. And yet the team feel that they are not listened to and there is no point in putting forward suggestions as there is no scope for any answer that is different to the one the manager wants.

The meaning of communication is not what you intended it to be, but is instead what others received it to be. If I'm distracted and speak to someone without looking at them, and in a tone of voice that implies 'don't bother me, I'm busy', then it is quite possible that is nothing more than bad timing for a conversation. However, it is quite likely that the person on the receiving end will feel rejected, like they don't matter, you are in a bad mood and snappy. What you meant was 'could we talk another time please?'. What was received was 'get lost, you are not important enough to speak to right now'

Really good listening means being ready to accept what the other person has to say as their truth, even when that isn't the corporate truth. Even when it isn't what you thought you'd said. So if you are thinking of trying Time to Talk sessions, please make sure you are going in ready to really listen.

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