Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re lucky enough to work alongside some reasonably intelligent professionals. So, why is it that these responsible, capable adults struggle to communicate effectively? There are a huge number and variety of reasons that communication is really difficult, but here are a few of the big ones:
We are all different
The way that we communicate varies hugely depending on our cultural background, our experiences, our motivations, our personalities and myriad other factors that make us all brilliantly unique. This means that whilst we might all technically share a common language and purpose, the reality can be very different indeed. If we accept that we’re not all the same and going to communicate or see things in the same way, we have a good starting point for trying to understand why communication is a challenge.
There are multiple potential points of failure in the communications “system”
Communication is never just about one party. Even in the simplest communication situations, there are many places where the communication can get “broken”.
- You have the person who’s trying to get the message across, who needs to mean what they say. You might think this is a given, but think about how many times you’ve moderated what you said away from your true meaning today (perhaps for a very innocent reason such as to keep the peace).
- Then there’s the message itself. Even if we think we’re saying what we mean, we may well not be saying it quite that way or providing all the information required.
- Finally, we have what the recipient of our communication thinks we mean. We’ve all experienced those moments where the person we’re talking to misinterprets either our message or motivation.
Let’s look at a really simple example. Imagine we’re housemates and I ask you, “Can you put that in the dishwasher?” Simple right? Not necessarily. I haven’t specified what item I’m referring to. Is it my used coffee cup? Or something else I can see that’s further away? I might be (unjustifiably) annoyed at you if you remove the wrong item.
Also, I failed to say please. You may be offended by this and infer that I take you for granted. You may be further irritated when, having expended effort on my behalf, I then tel you that you moved the wrong item. This is a very simple domestic example, but hopefully you can see how even the most ordinary everyday interactions can be fraught with potential mishaps.
Emotions reduce even the smartest person to a more basic state
Following on from our previous example, you can see how seemingly innocent remarks can trigger emotional responses. And emotions aren’t just triggered within communications, we bring them into our conversations with us. How many times have you come across as terse, grumpy, angry or otherwise out of sorts with someone who had nothing to do with the situation that triggered that emotional state? High emotion connects us with our more primal side, often negating our rational brains and rendering us only marginally improved from our ape ancestors.