Communication is Not a 2-Way Street

Despite what you think, communication is not a two-way street. Wikipedia says it’s the process of transferring information from one entity to another. I was told in school that communication is about a sender and receiver. Person “A” says something and person “B” hears it. Person “B” replies.

Now I believe that is incomplete. Communication is all about the response I get. It really doesn’t matter how well I think I stated something. What matters is how the listener responds. Inquiring to ensure the other person heard and understood what I said may help. Asking for feedback may help. Watching the listener’s body language may help. Bottom line is that what is heard is what matters.

Consider this, after explaining an assignment to a co-worker say, “I know I have said a lot, I am not sure I am being clear. Is this adding up for you? What questions do you have?” That will give your co-worker a chance to give you feedback and you can determine if you have been effective.

When I teach the fundamentals of communication, I am invariably asked, “What can I do when I am working with someone who hasn’t learned these techniques? It doesn’t work then.” I reply that it’s up to you to take responsibility for the communication. Sure it feels good to lay blame on someone else or to justify the situation with an excuse, but it’s not effective. How many times have you said, “That’s not what I meant!” or “I never said that.” The point is, what the listener heard is what he or she is acting upon.

The best step you can take is to use all of your skills. Meeting someone half way is not enough. We have to assume total responsibility for whatever it is we need to accomplish through language.

Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” In communication, it’s not what you say that matters, but what is heard and acted upon.



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