Oakland Group

6 tips for avoiding miscommunication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” is a quote from George Bernard Shaw. It refers to the risk that a person believes they have communicated when in fact they have not. Big Data is an extremely complicated area crossing over your service, delivery, sales and marketing functions. How many times have you “agreed” a way forward with an individual or group and everyone has nodded their heads and then later something different to what you expected happened? On discussing why this occurred you find that people say things like, “Well it was my understanding that…” or “When I heard that I thought it meant…”

Why does this illusion happen?
We all filter communication through our own frame of reference, our preconceptions and biases – this is natural and necessary to make sense of the complex world we operate within – but it can lead to the message we understand, being quite different to the one that was intended. To make the potential for miscommunication even worse, once a message is passed on it changes again. While this can sometimes lead to quite entertaining results (think of the game “Chinese Whispers”) in businesses and organisations it can have negative, even damaging effects.

6 tips for avoiding miscommunication

Miscommunication can never be eradicated, but there are a number of tips to follow.

  1. Plan your communications. Any large change will require regular communication – a simple communication plan covering the messages, timing, frequency, method, sender and audience is a must.
  2. Make sure the message lands. What works well for your organisation? Ask people. Reuse the methods that work well but don’t underestimate face to face communication. I attended a great training course recently where the trainer reminded me that pitch and tone make up some 38% of what is communicated and body language around 55%, leaving just 7% for the words themselves!
  3. Use logic to structure your messages. Psychologists have long recognised that people cannot easily recall from short term memory more than a handful of pieces of information without rehearsing it.  Pyramid Thinking is a great idea for structuring communications in memorable “chunks”. It suggests you should start with the answer, group and summarise your supporting arguments then logically order your supporting ideas (see http://bit.ly/1c807wJ for a digestible blog on the topic).
  4. Clarify assumptions. Make sure that the assumptions behind your message are clear. In face to face communications try to understand the assumptions your audience are making. Assumptions can be really helpful, they help to shortcut long decision making processes, but they also create the risk of miscommunication if they aren’t clear and shared.
  5. Make communications multi-modal i.e. use numerous communication channels (with a consistent message) and media to suit different “information preferences” (a good mix of text, video, face to face where possible) and use social media if your audience is used to it as a channel.
  6. Make the communication easy to revisit. Whatever format you use, it is likely that some of your communication will be in a visual/text based format. Store and display it in places where people can easily find it again for reference whether that is your intranet or a cafeteria wall.