More Than Ever: Epidemic Communication Breakdowns

We humans have a big problem: We have trouble communicating. For the most part we “want” to communicate clearly, listen intently, and be understood. But in the workplace, the community, the household, and the primary relationship, high quality communication doesn’t come easy. We all know this but we fight it everyday. Why? We can banter about various reasons why this happens, but our time is probably better spent keeping just a few things in mind every time [did she say “every time?”] we say something or listen to someone if the goal is to have a coherent flow of communication that is clearly stated, sincerely understood, has follow through, and is remembered.

What to Do: 4 tips for Improving Your Communication as Both Speaker and Listener

  1. Know where to start – Sounds obvious but research tells us that in order to have the most impact or adjust a specific outcome, our thinking needs to be organized to target the most important point first. As the “listener” in communication, it’s essential to be present, singularly focused, and attentive.
  2. Make smart choices – Have “facts,” not opinions, to back up your request or decision. Again, facts not opinions. If you have measurements behind your efforts, it shows both commitment to something that matters to you as well as dedication to making something you desire work well for everyone. As the “listener,” consider what’s being proposed and endeavor to sincerely weigh the idea’s merits.
  3. Pause to make sure all parties are aligning – It pays to check in with your listeners to see if your key message is being received and if you’re being effective in your delivery. Modify as needed, and make sure listening is flowing in all directions—caring enough to hear others’ ideas. Take action on their feedback.
  4. Demonstrate commitment to change – Being serious about improving communication means being willing to give things a try, measure results, and most importantly, that all parties are committed to follow through. Support any change that happens and recognize everyone’s progress.


One last word: I know I set the bar high when I suggested setting a goal of “coherent flow of communication that is clearly stated, sincerely understood, has follow through, and is remembered.” Of course, each of these tips take practice and none of them can be done in a vacuum. This requires “the team” whether it is 2 of you or 122 — you will need to agree that communication is important to all of you and that you are willing to do your part. Then, let the practicing begin! Be kind to one another along the way and be firm in your commitment to the process. It will keep you sane and prevent a “breakdown.”

It is with dedication that I work with high tech professionals whose leaders want teams that trust one another enough to generate healthy conflict. I guide leaders to skillfully give coordination and control to the people who do the work. This brings out the best in each employee, encouraging creativity, competent risk-taking, and innovation. If you or a business leader you know is open to this kind of change, I would deeply appreciate you sending them to to see if we are a good fit to work together.