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Wednesday Wisdom: Communication goes beyond just your words

Many people think they have achieved effective communication simply because words came out of their mouth. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines communication as “information communicated.” Given that definition, one could argue the above statement is true. The problem lies exactly in the belief that the giving of information both verbally or in writing is effective communication.

Have you ever had a situation where you were telling a story or giving directions to someone and it was perfectly clear to you but the other person completely did not get what you were saying? We often “communicate” in a way that only makes sense to us. It goes with the notion that we frame things a certain way in our minds and expect others to conform to our way of thinking.

It is my personal opinion that most of the biggest leadership failures and life failures come from ineffective communication.

Too many leaders have the attitude that “it’s my way or the highway” and feel that they can bark out orders to people or give “feedback” to people and that it ends there. When we were kids, our parents would tell us something and when we questioned them we likely heard, “because I said so.” Here’s a story. Most parents tell you as a kid to look both ways before you cross the street, right? Do they give us the context and tell us WHY to look both ways? Do they tell us the consequences of not looking both ways? Well, of course my mom always told me to look both ways, and well…I did not understand the context until I was hit by a car.

What if I had been given more information, rather than just directions? Would I have been more cautious about crossing the street? Would I have actually listened and done what I was told?

Adults want to know the why behind things. We need context. We want to learn and become better people but when we are just given orders that does not happen. Give your people some context, allow them to ask questions.

Another way we fail in communication is we do not allow the RECEIVING of communication. We do not allow the asking of questions, or the ability to express a difference in opinions. This leads only to division and misunderstanding.

Here are three things you can do to be a more effective communicator:

1. Understand your intended audience. In the work setting, they will unlikely have all the information that you do. Before you GIVE communication, think of what questions they may have and try to answer them as you communicate. If it is something hard or something that may cause an emotional reaction, keep that in mind as you choose your words.

2. Watch your body language. Again, communication goes far beyond words. Watch how you are standing, watch where your arms are and pay attention to your facial expressions. Some people smile when they are nervous. If you are nervous because you are communicating something that is a serious matter, people will not take you seriously because you are smiling. If your facial expression/body language make it seem like you are angry or threatening they will probably not hear your words.

3. Allow for questions. Anticipate that people will disagree with you. Understand that people may react in an emotional manner. Keep your cool. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer, do not make something up to appease the other people. Get the answer(s) and follow up with them.

Always remember, just because you have spoken words out loud or written words in an email/text it does not mean you have effectively communicated. Be sure to read the reactions of the people you are communicating with. If you at first do not succeed, aim for clarity.


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