“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
We all know how essential effective communication is in the workplace. Yet how many of us are actually aware of when we are talking and when we are communicating? There’s no shortage of talking, as I’m sure we would all agree. Listening maybe not so much. So what distinguishes communication from all this talking and assorted kinds of listening? While I will share my thoughts, this question in and of itself is extremely valuable and worth sitting with. Lately, I’ve adopted the practice of asking myself during a conversation in the workplace, “Is communication happening?” And out of asking this question I’ve developed my own criteria.
Communication is happening when a new idea, possibility, opportunity, way forward emerges from the conversation that wasn’t anticipated at the outset.
This might seem rather simplistic given all the elements that go into communication, however, if the conversation doesn’t meet the above criteria, I take the case we may be talking but not communicating and take a breath to see what’s missing. As you might expect, it’s usually in how I’m listening (or not listening). My most common way of listening to people is: “I already know what you’re saying. Could you get there a little quicker?” Obviously, this way of listening doesn’t foster communication but rather a lot more talking – the very thing I am trying to avoid!
I’m sure there are other criteria I could use, but this one seems to hold up pretty well. You’re free to steal my criteria or come up with your own. The point is to get interested in communication versus talking. Reflect back on your day. When was communication happening and what was the outcome? When was talking happening and what was the outcome? Look to see what worked or didn’t work in each example.
By the way, the criteria I use in my personal life is:
Communication is happening when love and admiration are present
This one is foolproof.