Sunday, April 8, 2007

Communication & Leadership # 1

No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others.
-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Many of the problems that occur in a organization are the direct result of people failing to communicate. Faulty communication causes the most problems. It leads to confusion and can cause a good plan to fail. Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another. It involves a sender transmitting an idea to a receiver. Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit.
Studying the communication process is important because you coach, coordinate, counsel, evaluate, and supervise through this process. It is the chain of understanding that integrates the members of an organization from top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side.

The Communication Process

Communication - That is what we try to do Speak to those near us
Thought: First, information exists in the mind of the sender. This can be a concept, idea, information, or feelings.

Encoding: Next, a message is sent to a receiver in words or other symbols.
Decoding: lastly, the receiver translates the words or symbols into a concept or information that he or she can understand.

During the transmitting of the message, two processes will be received by the receiver: content and context. Content is the actual words or symbols of the message which is known as language - the spoken and written words combined into phrases that make grammatical and semantic sense. We all use and interpret the meanings of words differently, so even simple messages can be misunderstood. And many words have different meanings to confuse the issue even more. Context is the way the message is delivered and is known as Paralanguage - it includes the tone of voice, the look in the sender's eye's, body language, hand gestures, and state of emotions (anger, fear, uncertainty, confidence, etc.) that can be detected. Although paralanguage or context often causes messages to be misunderstood as we believe what we see more than what we hear; they are powerful communicators that help us to understand each other. Indeed, we often trust the accuracy of nonverbal behaviors more than verbal behaviors. Some leaders think they have communicated once they told someone to do something, "I don't know why it did not get done...I told Jim to it." More than likely, Jim misunderstood the message. A message has NOT been communicated unless it is understood by the receiver (decoded). How do you know it has been properly received? By two-way communication or feedback. This feedback tells the sender that the receiver understood the message, its level of importance, and what must be done with it. Communication is an exchange, not just a give, as all parties must participate to complete the information exchange.

Barriers to Communication
Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood. - Freeman Teague, Jr.Anything that prevents understanding of the message is a barrier to communication.

Many physical and psychological barriers exist:
Culture, background, and bias - We allow our past experiences to change the meaning of the message. Our culture, background, and bias can be good as they allow us use our past experiences to understand something new, it is when they change the meaning of the message then they interfere with the communication process.
Noise - Equipment or environmental noise impede clear communication. The sender and the receiver must both be able to concentrate on the messages being sent to each other.
Ourselves - Focusing on ourselves, rather than the other person can lead to confusion and conflict. The "Me Generation" is out when it comes to effective communication. Some of the factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more that the other), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity). Perception - If we feel the person is talking too fast, not fluently, does not articulate clearly, etc., we may dismiss the person. Also our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen. We listen uncritically to persons of high status and dismiss those of low status.

Message - Distractions happen when we focus on the facts rather than the idea. Our educational institutions reinforce this with tests and questions. Semantic distractions occur when a word is used differently than you prefer. For example, the word chairman instead of chairperson, may cause you to focus on the word and not the message.
Environmental - Bright lights, an attractive person, unusual sights, or any other stimulus provides a potential distraction.

Smothering - We take it for granted that the impulse to send useful information is automatic. Not true! Too often we believe that certain information has no value to others or they are already aware of the facts.

Stress - People do not see things the same way when under stress. Our psychological frames of references – our beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals, influence what we see and believe at a given moment.

These barriers can be thought of as filters, that is, the message leaves the sender, goes through the above filters, and is then heard by the receiver. These filters muffle the message. And the way to overcome filters is through active listening and feedback.
Active Listening
Hearing and listening is not the same thing. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound. It is involuntary and simply refers to the reception of aural stimuli. Listening is a selective activity, which involves the reception and the interpretation of aural stimuli. It involves decoding the sound into meaning.

Listening is divided into two main categories: passive and active. Passive listening is little more that hearing. It occurs when the receiver or the message has little motivation to listen carefully, such as music, story telling, television, or being polite. People speak at 100 to 175 words per minute, but they can listen intelligently at 600 to 800 words per minute (WPM). Since only a part of our mind is paying attention, it is easy to go into mind drift - thinking about other things while listening to someone. The cure for this is active listening - which involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interest, see how another person feels, show support, etc. It requires that the listener attends to the words and the feelings of the sender for understanding. It takes the same amount or more energy than speaking. It requires the receiver to hear the various messages, understand the meaning, and then verify the meaning by offering feedback. The following are a few traits of active listeners: Spends more time listening than talking.
Do not finish the sentence of others.
Do not answer questions with questions.

Are aware of biases. We all have them...we need to control them. Never daydreams or become preoccupied with their own thoughts when others talk. Lets the other speaker talk. Does not dominate the conversation. Plans responses after the other person has finished speaking...NOT while they are speaking. Provides feedback, but does not interrupt incessantly. Analyzes by looking at all the relevant factors and asking open-ended questions. Walks the person through your analysis (summarize). Keeps the conversation on what the speaker says...NOT on what interests them. Takes brief notes. This forces them to concentrate on what is being said. FeedbackWhen you know something, say what you know. When you don't know something, say that you don't know. That is knowledge. - Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius)The purpose of feedback is to change and alter messages so the second communicator understands the intention of the original communicator. It includes verbal and nonverbal responses to another person's message. Providing feedback is accomplished by paraphrasing the words of the sender. Restate the sender's feelings or ideas in your own words, rather than repeating their words. Your words should be saying, "This is what I understand your feelings to be, am I correct?" It not only includes verbal responses, but also nonverbal ones. Nodding your head or squeezing their hand to show agreement, dipping your eyebrows shows you don't quite understand the meaning of their last phrase, or sucking air in deeply and blowing it hard shows that you are also exasperated with the situation.

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