Dr. Shirley Says...

You cannot not Communicate

"When you increase your power in the nonverbal facet of communication, you will begin to experience increased rapport with a better understanding of others, which in turn, can certainly lead to expanded trust and credibility."

Peter Drucker, the management guru, claims that 60 percent of all management problems are a result of faulty communication.

A leading divorce lawyer says that the underlying cause of more than 50 percent of all divorces is poor communication.

A recent educational study reported that one of the major reasons more teens today die from violence than from disease is miscommunication.

And, I'll be willing to bet that a major contributing factor to conflict, misunderstanding and stress in your professional as well as your personal life is faulty communication.

Certainly, these statements are all primary evidence that communication is the key, and we cannot not communicate.

I am a firm believer that effective communication is the backbone of every successfully functioning organization, work unit, team - even every one of our family units. So, considering the importance of this process we call communication, why are we not more proficient? There are a number of reasons, several of which will be shared in this article.

When Star Trek's Mr. Spock wanted a perfect transfer of information between himself and another Vulcan, he performed a mind-meld. By touching skulls, information flowed from his mind to another's in a faultless process - free of errors, emotional content and personal perspectives. Unfortunately or fortunately, as the case may be, mind-melding is not available to us. We have to use a more flawed technique and do the very best we can with what we have.

Have you ever said, "I told him exactly how I wanted it and when. Why does this always happen to me? There is no way he could have misunderstood." As senders, we assume we say what we mean. But when we leave it up to others to interpret what we mean, we almost always suffer the consequences.

In addition, many times we believe words have one and only one meaning; this creates situations in which we assume others understand, but they really do not. Take the word, "Yankee," for instance. When you hear the word, what comes to mind - Northerners, the New York Yankees baseball team, Americans? Think about it.

Many of the words you use in everyday conversation almost inevitably have multiple meanings. In fact, the 500 most commonly used words in our language have more than 14,000 dictionary definitions. So assuming that the other person is on the same wave length with you can be hazardous to your communication health.

What can you do? Use fewer assumptions, provide opportunities for feedback, be aware of nonverbal communication, and be specific. You'll end up being more accurate in your overall interpersonal communication and avoid the possibility of miscommunication.

An often overlooked aspect of the whole communication process is nonverbal communication. In our organizations, the communication of ideas is of primary importance. Unless we read and understand nonverbal cues, according to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, we are losing as much as 50 percent of the message that is being communicated.

You should be able to read the nonverbal cues others send you, as well as be acutely aware of the nonverbal cues you transmit. Keep in mind, that when your verbal message (the words you speak) is contradicted by your nonverbal message (body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, etc.), you send a mixed message. Based on Dr. Mehrabian's research on this situation, 90 percent of the time, the receiver of your mixed message will believe the nonverbal aspect. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

When you increase your power in the nonverbal facet of communication, you will begin to experience increased rapport with and a better understanding of others, which in turn, can certainly lead to expanded trust and credibility.

Earlier I mentioned communication is the key. Well, a key to communication is listening. Are you a good listener? Or, is this definitely an area on which you need to work?

We all need to be good senders and good receivers. Isn't it interesting how some of us are so eager to talk, but reluctant to listen?

The skills needed to improve listening are relatively simple to learn and implement. Perhaps, the more difficult task is developing an active listening attitude. You do this by first understanding that listening is as powerful as speech. What someone says to you can be just as critical as what you have to say to them.

A few steps to effective listening include:

Be a "whole-body" listener. Actively listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart.

Show interest. Pay attention, maintain good eye contact, ask questions, empathize.

Avoid interrupting. Let others complete their thought; it is the courteous thing to do. If you need to clarify a point, excuse yourself, make the point and then let the speaker continue.

Be patient. Refrain from fidgeting, drumming on your desk, clicking a pen, and finishing other's sentences. These activities all take away from the active listening process.

Effective listening can be the key to solving problems, reducing conflict, misunderstanding and unpleasantness. Additionally, the payoffs for improving your active listening skills are enormous. You will have fewer communication glitches, your relationships will improve, productivity and morale will increase in your organization, and you will be able to break through those barriers of poor listening to become a more effective and successful communicator professionally as well as personally.

Dr. Stephen Covey put it very well when he wrote in his book, Principle Centered Leadership, "We need to speak to be understood and listen to understand."

Learning how to communicate effectively is one of the most rewarding skills we can develop. Though it is a process that requires work, it is well worth the effort.

If you have any questions about customer relations, management concerns, workplace professionalism and general self-improvement issues, or if you would like to have Dr. White conduct a seminar for your workplace or association, please contact her at (800) 932-3170, or you may reach her via mail at Dr. Shirley Says, 7330 Highland Road, Suite 120, Baton Rouge, LA 70808; via fax at (225) 766-8504; via e-mail at info@successimages.com