The Meaning of Communication
People come from different backgrounds and hence use different languages, have different values, display different attitudes and have different perceptions of the world around them. With that in mind it is quite possible that as humans communicate with each other they often run into disagreements, misunderstandings or miscommunications.
Coming from a mixed cultural background and having lived and worked in different countries I have gained an insight into cross- cultural communication. In addition, through NLP I have learnt a number of things that have helped me personally interact better with others both in my personal and working life.
1- Have an awareness of cultural differences.
I spent my childhood and most of my teenage years in The Lebanon. The Lebanese are very “touchy feely”. Direct eye contact with a lot of physical contact is the cornerstone of Lebanese communication. In another culture where eye contact is less direct and physical contact not so prevalent, the Lebanese style of communication can lead to misunderstandings as I quickly discovered when I moved to the UK at the age of 19. In Oman, being a Muslim country, sometimes a handshake with someone from the opposite sex could be deemed unacceptable. It was more appropriate to shake hands if a hand was proffered first. At times my ease and comfort with physical contact was misconstrued for being forward, my passion for aggression. Armed with a desire to learn and a sense of humour I inherited from my dad, I found a way to stay true to myself and yet adapt to the culture around me.
I do not aim here to list the endless differences between cultures but just to say that having an awareness of this can stop you from taking things personally or taking offence when communication fails. For more information on cross-cultural communication I suggest you read Subtle Differences, Big Faux Pas by Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly.
2-The meaning of your communication is the response you get.
Just think of a time when you said something to someone and you thought that you were crystal clear, but the person understood something completely different to what you intended. In most cases we tend to blame the other person for not understanding/misunderstanding what we said. It is their fault they didn’t get it. We accuse them of being stupid or unstable. The possibility that perhaps the problem lies in the manner with which we communicated that piece of information often escapes us.
If Instead of blaming the person, you ask yourself: “I wonder how else I can say it so they’ll get it?” This way you become more responsive to feedback and flexible by adapting to change.
Some schools of Communication say that each party in an exchange has 50% responsibility for the communication. In NLP, we aim a little higher, and take 100%.
If whenever you don’t get your intended message across, or feel misunderstood or unheard, you say, “it’s them, they just don’t understand me”, then you’ve learnt to communicate in one way: your way.
But if you take the stance that the success of your communication lies in the response you get, and assume responsibility, and are willing to be more flexible than your audience, then you are in a two-way communication: yours and theirs.
This is what sets great communicators, teachers, mentors, coaches, counsellors and speakers apart. They take responsibility for their communication and say things in as many different ways as necessary until they get their message across.
3-You cannot, not communicate.
The words we say when we are communicating may count for a very small part of the impression we create, especially if we are saying one thing with our words and something different with our tone of voice or body language.
I came across an acquaintance the other day while walking home.
“Hey, how are you?” I asked cheerfully.
“Oh am fine”, he answered. However his shoulders were drooping, his face was listless, and his tone was exasperated.
“Are you sure you are ok?” I said. “You are saying one thing but your body language is saying another.”
“Actually, I am having problems with my boss at work” came his reply.
Research shows that when talking about feelings and attitudes, what you say has a very small impact compared to the tone you use and how you hold your body. The influences, in percentage terms, are as follows:
Paying attention to your own and other people’s body language will help your communication. It is widely recognised that matching body language voice and intonation can help build rapport with people. Culture also plays a role here. In The Lebanon for example, non-verbal cues and body language are crucial to learn so you can more fully understand the responses you are given.
4- Start with the end in mind
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt so angry, that you didn’t trust yourself to speak? Or said too much and regretted it afterwards? A situation where your sadness and hurt took away your ability to coherently express yourself? If you have, then you will know that your emotions affect your ability to communicate. In communicating well, it is important to be self aware, to know how your emotions are influencing your behaviour, to be aware of other people’s emotions so that you can empathise with them, and to manage your emotions so that you can say how you feel without the emotion overwhelming your ability to deal effectively with the situation. I have certainly needed to work hard on this, as I am an emotionally charged person. Being emotional can be helpful in situations where you want to show compassion, empathy or motivation, but it can be quite a hindrance in a conflict. Sometimes it is best to take time out and discuss the matter at hand later when everyone concerned is calmer.
One way of keeping your emotions in check is to start with the end in mind and stay focused on what it is that you want to achieve from the communication. This approach will be very helpful for you as a parent and as a professional dealing with conflict at the workplace.
I will end here with a quote from Anthony Robbins.
“ To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others”
Recommended reading: Subtle Differences, Big Faux Pas by Elizabeth Vennekens-Kelly