The biggest problem in communication

Ask anybody at work ‘What’s the biggest problem around here?’ and nine out of 10 people will say ‘Communication!’ That’s easy to say, and I think it’s absolutely right–as far as it goes. But I think we need to go further to find the heart of the problem. I think the real problem is that we lose sight of why we’re communicating in the first place. We forget what we’re really after, both in the short term and the long term.

In the short term, we might communicate to pass on some information, to find an answer to a question, or even to pass the time of day. In the long term, it might be to build terrific working relationships, to build a productive work team or to pass on important organisational values. When we lose sight of those goals, especially the long term ones, our communication is bound to fail.

To turn the ‘biggest problem’ around and communicate successfully, we need to keep the real reasons we’re communicating in sight. Then we can express ourselves clearly and authentically. Whether we’re the most articulate person on the planet or the least, our intentions shine through when we keep our communication goals in mind.

The heart of the problem, then, may be that we do so much communicating, we seldom think about it–we just open our mouths and yack away, or look at someone and listen while they’re yacking away.

Or maybe we just switch of and not communicate at all. This isn’t as silly as it might sound: join the club if your life is so hectic that sitting down for a quiet chat with someone seems like a luxury. Perhaps even taking the time to pass on information that others need often takes a back seat because we’re so flat out.

When we do take the time to communicate, we’re sometimes so rushed that we don’t pause to think through what we want to say and how to say it best and what our underlying goals are, short and long term. To top it off, we don’t take the time to check whether our message was received clearly.

And in our haste, we may forget to explain our reasons or our priorities, even when that background information is important. People aren’t mind readers and our rationale isn’t necessarily obvious to anyone except ourselves.

And then, of course, there’s the biggie, the one you’ve probably already thought of: not listening. Taking the time to stop what we’re in the middle of and really pay attention to the other person can be a huge challenge. But without that, there isn’t much communication.

It’s so easy to get it wrong. And so easy to get it right.