Effective Communication: How to Get Through the Noise and Remove Communication Challenges

Stop, check and go is a habit engrained in us at a young age in order to make it safely through an intersection.  This habit can also be applied to verbal communication so that conflict, upset, poor performance and other challenges can be avoided.  How might stopping, checking and then going increase the likelihood of others hearing you?

The intention of communication is to express oneself effectively to another.  This requires another to engage and understand rather than contemplate ‘Why did Pluto lose its planet designation?’, while you are speaking.

This can be challenging as in our busy world, attention is dwindling compounded with possible disinterest, busyness, judging and multitasking – a.k.a. NOISE.

Being interested in you versus being perceived as possible noise improves when what we have to say is of value to the other and it bypasses their ‘filtration system’.  Here are some ways we can help to break through the noise:

STOP – Drop the Filter

We all have them.  A pool filter removes undesirables so that one can swim void of worry about swallowing a june bug.  Our own filters (which are often subconscious) are built to protect and preserve our beliefs, perceptions, and story about another or a situation.  We often want to be right!  If something does not align with what is right for us, we may filter it out.  Filters are at play before we even open our mouths.

We all know someone who we perceive to be a ‘negative person’ – let’s call them ‘Negative Norman’ [no slight to Normans everywhere; I have a fantastic positive friend named Norman!]  Negative Norman walks up to you and starts complaining about how it is too hot outside and the sun is giving him wrinkles.  Chances are that even before Norman opened his mouth, your filters were expecting some complaint and as a result, you were already prepared to focus on just what reinforces your label of him. Your filter/beliefs about Norman is a communication hurdle.  He has a limited chance of being anything different for you when communicating, other than negative.

Filters impact how we approach someone, the words we use, how we listen and our body language.  Turning off the filter may be difficult but acknowledging we have them and setting them aside in conversation may change our relational and communication dynamic with Norman.

Here is the tough part: you have also trained Norman how to filter you based on historic communication. How do you make sure that he too is going converse with you so that it is human-to-human rather than with old filters?

CHECK – the Listener

Consider first of all, how you have communicated with others and appreciated how they may listen to you as a result.  Our filters may lead to what is called ‘listening blocks’.  When listening to someone, acknowledge when these blocks appear and choose to self-correct during the conversation.  Common blocks can include, listening to:

  • Respond: “How will I respond to this?”
  • Fix: “You need to be fixed. I will help.”
  • Survive: “When is this going to end!”
  • Read minds: “I bet you will say this.”
  • Manipulate: “I will take you down a different road”
  • Compare: “Listen to my story that relates.”

True listening is working towards understanding, “I care and want to understand your point of view.”  This leads to more engagement, enjoyment, learning, connection and being with the other person in their story, not yours.

GO – Speak

Breaking through listening blocks starts with how we choose to speak with another, filter-free if you will.  Some things we can employ to help create a ‘listening to understand’ conversation, include:

  • Dropping your filter: Don’t talk to the ‘personality’ (a label you may have for them), talk to the person. Drop all that limits you just being with them – judgement free. Treat each conversation as new.
  • Setting context: Consider what the other person needs to know so that all the puzzle pieces you are about to give them (your words) fit into the bigger picture you are trying to achieve.
  • Choosing your words: You can’t take back words. The simpler you can be, the better. Don’t embellish (and definitely don’t lie).
  • Watching your body language: Roll your shoulders back, straighten your posture, make eye contact, and keep arms unfolded to convey a welcoming environment.
  • Managing your tone: Calm and caring is best as anything else could create listening blocks. In many cases, the wrong tone, shuts down the listening from the start.  Our tone has a long history of development based on our filters and to a great extent, we don’t even notice how it shows up.  This is why someone may say “I don’t like the tone of your voice!” despite our best efforts not to offend.
  • Expressing your feelings: You have them, express them. Being overt about what we are feeling: a) acknowledges you have emotions, and b) shows others that emotions are important; this helps build connection and empathy.
  • Knowing your hidden agenda: In the book Messages – The Communication Skills Book, the authors* mention we have 8 hidden agendas that show up in how we communicate. They are: I’m good; you’re not good; I’m not good; I am suffering; I’m a victim and not to blame; I’m fragile; I’m tough; and lastly, I know it all.  Do you know what your agenda is when you enter a given conversation?

* – Authors Martha Davis, Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning

In managing our filters, caring about others in conversation, dropping agendas and actually listening to others, we can create a world with a bit less noise, fewer communication challenges and stronger connection with others.

It can be especially challenging to communicate effectively amidst conflict – Kwela’s Conflict Resolution course teaches key skills in active listening, body language and more to help navigate the more difficult conversations.

Glen Sollors, Partner