Communicate to be Understood, Not Just Heard

by Dwight Kingdon

One of my favorite quotes from the famous Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, is: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Poor communication is commonplace.

The problem is that communication isn’t simply “saying something.” Effective communication is conveying something in a way that it is properly received.

Effective communication is primarily the responsibility of the communicator. While the receiver has responsibilities as well, the originator must ensure that what was communicated is properly received. So how do we take responsibility for our communications?

  • Give people a reason to listen. Are you providing valuable or actionable information, or are you just spouting useless information? Not everyone needs the information you want to communicate. Make sure you are communicating to the right audience.
  • Stay on topic and don’t ramble. Get your point across succinctly. Using more words does not necessarily mean better communication. In fact, the more words you use, the less likely the receiver will retain the key information you wanted to convey. Most people will “tune out” or quit reading once they reach some threshold.
  • Confirm that what they heard is what you intended to communicate. Ask questions to ensure that what was communicated was understood correctly. It is surprising how often the receiver hears something completely different from what you thought you said.
  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid jargon and metaphors that may be misunderstood.
  • Don’t communicate through other people. Every person between you and the one you are communicating to creates an opportunity for miscommunication.
  • Communicate face-to-face whenever possible. Face-to-face discussion shortens the time between a question and its answer. When we communicate via email, chat, or phone we can’t see the recipients’ facial expressions or body language. We don’t see their eyes roll or see them crossing their arms in a defensive posture. In today’s world, video is often the next-best thing to face-to-face, but nothing beats an in-person conversation.

Good communication is one of the most important success skills you can develop.

Originally published at on August 31, 2020.

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