Communication seems so simple – I say something, you hear it, message received.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the message often isn’t received, or is received wrong.
There’s a model that explains very simply what can go wrong and what the components of communication are.
- You have the sender of the message (the communicator).
- You have the intended meaning (what I think I think I’m communicating).
- You have the medium (how I communicate, whether by words, verbally, by body language).
- You have the message itself (the actual words I say or write)
- You have the received meaning (what the recipient hears as the message)
- You have the recipient (the person on the other end, who is the target of the communication.
If only the intended meaning and the received meaning always matched, life would be simple. But all too often they don’t.
Many things interfere and mean that the message you receive (or decode) may be extremely different from the message I sent (or encoded).
Picture this scenario:
Person A: “I’m getting better at prioritization” (thinking “I plan my day, I know my top three priorities each day and get them done, I have my urgent/import items organized, and I even led the team meeting last week on the topic of how to prioritize effectively”)
Person B: responds “I’ve found it’s useful to keep of list of what needs to be done so I don’t forget – would you like me to send you an example of the template I use? And you might find it helpful if we talked about how it’s going from time to time instead of you trying to figure it out all on your own.” (thinking ‘oh, poor A – I know how hard I’m finding it to keep the list up to date and not get discoured, s/he must also find it hard & I can help out because I’ve been doing this for a good month now!’).
This type of misunderstanding is the source of a huge amount of comedy – when it’s harmless as in the above scenario (unless Person A now thinks Person B is a total twit!).
But it can also have much more serious consequences.
Imagine Person A is applying for a job where s/he needs to be a expert in a particular field. But Person A is modest & says ‘I’m not bad at x, but I still have a lot to learn’ (meaning in comparison to the absolute stars of that particular field) and the interviewer hears that Person A is just at the intermediate level and so does not hire Person A. Now both the interviewer suffers (not getting the use of Person A’s skills) and Person A also suffers (not getting offered the job). All because of the difference between the intended message and the received message (and note that neither has much to do with the actual words said!).
Equally in marketing or sales materials, the message we think we are conveying is often not the message actually being received (and I know this from personal painful experience!).
So what is the solution to getting the message across that we intend to send?
The answer is fourfold:
- Recognize and understand the difficulty (understanding the model is a solid first step)
- Get feedback (opening a feedback loop is the single most effective way to learn what message the recipient thinks you meant to send; this may be asking customers or prospects for feedback, or asking the person you are talking to what they just heard, or asking someone like the person you are creating a message for to tell you what they think it says)
- Recognize that one message may have multiple received meanings depending on the recipient (each person brings their own filters, background, past experiences to interpreting a given message, so with one sole communication to multiple people, each one of the recipients may actually receive a different perceived message) – know which types of recipients you are trying to communicate to and focus on those similar types of people – don’t worry about what other possible recipients might interpret
- Be aware that no message is ever received exactly as intended – stay alert to hints and indications that tell you that your message is not landing in the way you intended – and don’t take it personally when that happens!