Back to the Basics of Communication


Communication is still one of the biggest issues in the workplace, despite the fact we have been doing it since birth, in one form or another. Effective communication is paramount, because it is the key skill for relationship building and people management. Yet many problems exist in businesses due to a lack of or poor communication. Having a greater understanding of the components of communication and how they interact can help reduce problems arising.  

“Every decision, action, behaviour and utterance by a manager contains a negative or positive stimulus potential”

David Freemantle: The Stimulus Factor

Definition of Communication

Communication can be defined as the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. To be effective, it also requires the checking of understanding. It is easy to assume we have understood or that the other person has understood us.

It is a complex two-way process that can go wrong at every stage, so it is perhaps not surprising that we run into problems. The question is who is responsible for getting it right?

“I honestly believe that you understood what you thought I said, but what you heard was not what I meant!”


How it can go wrong.

Here are just some of the ways it can go wrong. Have you ever expressed an idea, but it has come out not as you intended? Perhaps you muddled your words, or your body language wasn’t congruent with what you were saying. You may know people who tend to speak before they have properly thought it through. They release the brake before engaging the brain!

The person receiving your message may not be looking at you and miss key clues in your body language. How often are we busy doing something and not give the speaker the attention they deserve for example? If the receiver has a hearing problem or there is a lot of background noise, they may not hear you correctly. We may rely on technology to convey our message, but signals can be poor and messages get distorted.

The brain has to interpret the signals coming in through the ears and the eyes and make sense of it. It may be unable to do that because it is a language or dialect the brain can’t comprehend, or there are learning difficulties.

The interpreted message will then be checked against our memory and experiences to validate it. We may be carrying perceptions, bad experiences, or prejudices which influence our thinking.

A response is formed and the cycle continues with all the same potential pitfalls.

Given the complexity of this, it’s a wonder we get it right at all! It requires a lot of work and awareness to make sure we are understood and understand. It may take more time, but how much time is lost and relationships spoilt due to incorrect communication.

If you always do what you always do, you’ll always get what you always get!

Albert Einstein

Taking Responsibility

Depending on what comes at us and our response to it, we will get a certain outcome. For example, if someone says something that you believe is offensive, you may respond in a certain way, which will give you a certain outcome. We cannot control what life will throw at us, but we can choose our response.


Steven Covey

Between the stimulus coming at us and our response, we have a choice. Taking responsibility is using our ability to choose our response to get the outcome we need. Decide what outcome you want and then choose the appropriate response to gain that outcome. If you don’t like the outcome you are getting – change your response.

 Components of Communication

Verbal communication is a complex cycle with many components and here are some of them. How well do you use these and could you improve any of them?

How Empathetic Are You?
  • Eye contact
  • Active listening
  • Focus
  • Desire to get to win-win
  • Assertiveness
  • Negotiation and willingness to change – open minded
  • Questions – your most powerful tool for checking understanding
  • Checking understanding – Follow up by putting it in writing if necessary
  • Awareness of your thinking, emotions, perceptions, assumptions, ‘baggage’
  • Empathy for self and others
  • Words you use
  • Tone of voice
  • Setting expectations
  • Body language
  • Emotional intelligence – the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
  • Time allowed for the transaction

Increasing the Chances of Getting it Right

We have the knowledge, skills, and attitude to get communication right, because we can do it some of the time and with certain people. It is worth thinking about what you do in those circumstances and what causes you to waiver from it.  Could any of the following help you?

  1. Slow down your response. Take the time to identify and get the outcome you need.
  2. If necessary, take the discussion elsewhere, so all parties feel safe and relaxed.
  3. Introduce the topic of conversation at the start.
  4. Set the expectations in terms of how long you have, what the real focus is, how you want to work together on it, and establish what outcomes both parties want.
  5. Maintain appropriate eye contact. Be aware that certain cultures and autistic people may not like eye contact.
  6. Actively listen and seek first to understand and then be understood.
  7. Choose your response based on the outcome needed.
  8. Aim to reach a win-win situation.
  9. Have an open mind and leave bias, assumptions, perceptions, and prejudices aside.
  10. Use all of your emotional intelligence, experience, and training.  

“We judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our behaviours.”

Steven Covey

If you would like to know more about improving communication, please contact me.

Also published on Medium.

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