It’s so common for people to get frustrated with how often the people around them don’t understand them. It’s a boss that just doesn’t understand that we could be doing so much better if they just listened to me. A significant other that just can’t seem to remember that chore I have reminded them to do every other day. A sibling that just can’t get their life together and if only they followed my instructions, everything would work out for them.
Too often we are putting the responsibility onto the people in our lives and not paying close enough attention to our role in miscommunication. It makes sense. Everything is perfectly clear in our head. It’s a conclusion reached based 100% on your experiences, it’s laid out in a fashion that makes sense to your mind (whether that’s a logical structure or more emotionally based). The problem is that whoever we are talking to will have a completely different set of experiences and is unlikely to process information in the same way.
It’s not on the people around us make sure they understand what we are saying. We have to take responsibility for understanding who we are talking to and tailor our communication to how they process information. Your first try may not work but that is okay. Take a step back. Ask where you’re losing them. Adjust your message and try again. Eventually, we will find a way that lands for the person we are talking to.
If someone seems to be ignoring you, dismissing what you say, or are upset about what you are saying, it’s likely that you just aren’t communicating in the right way. It may not happen overnight but if you are communicating in an optimal way for the person you are talking to, we can start shifting their position. Eventually, aligning their position with ours. People don’t change their minds quickly and that’s okay. If people were easily swayed, not much progress would be made because people would give up too easily and we need someone to challenge our positions to make sure we have thought it out.
So far we have focused on our mindset in approaching communication. That is a vital first step but I don’t want to overlook the importance of our audience. We can only experiment with different styles and reach an optimal style if we are also listening to our audience. Without their feedback, we are adjusting based on our experiences and personality. This is no better than simply keep talking at someone and hoping repetition is the key to understanding. I promise, it’s not.
A technique that works for me is to divide my argument into smaller chunks. Not only is it easier for me to choose words wisely but it gives me the opportunity to ask my audience if they understand and if they agree with me up to this point. If they answer is yes to both, I can move on. If the answer no to either, that means I need to dig deeper into what they are thinking. I view this as progress. It means I’ve discovered a misunderstanding. Even if it’s not the only one, clearing this up means that I’m this much closer to building the foundation that my arguments need to be understood and agreed upon.
When I’ve discovered a roadblock, this is the point I turn over most of the talking to my audience. I need to ask the right questions and shut up. If they can’t get out whole answers, it’s unlikely that I’ll discover the miscommunication. An additional benefit of shutting up is that your audience feels listened to which relaxes them. No one want’s to be lectured to but if you are having a two-way conversation and it’s equitable then you’re a friend instead of a foe. That’s a much easier conversation to have.
Once I’ve discovered what the roadblock is, I can take a step back and readjust my communication to compensate. Then I check back in and repeat this process until I get a yes to understanding and agreeing and can move on to the next chunk. Even if I don’t get to the end of my argument, I can guarantee that I’ve made progress, either in understanding my audience better or shifting their position toward mine.
Success in communication isn’t winning an argument. It’s understanding. It’s being able to have empathy to the person you’re communicating with. In the end, you may find out you’re the one who was wrong in the beginning. You’re pulling from a limited number of experiences. Listening to someone else’s position will broaden that pool of experiences and will likely shift your positions to some measure.
If you’re not open to changing your mind, you are no longer communicating with someone you’re communicating at them. There is no easier way to shut down a channel of communication and frustrate both parties.
Be patient. Work with your audience. Be open to new ideas. Have empathy. Figure out what they need from you and deliver. Once you figure it out, things will get done much easier. It’s worth the investment upfront.