Communication – it's complicated!

Effective communication is a complex business. If you go into it expecting things to flow easily and without a lot of effort, you’re just kidding yourself. I recommend that you adjust your expectations from “simple” to “complex,” especially in three key areas:

1. Expect problems and misunderstandings. Even the best communicators sometimes fail to understand others, or they fall short of making themselves understood. We’re all human. We don’t always follow through on what we know to be best. We don’t always use the proven techniques that we know work. Often we don’t even know for sure why we act or feel a certain way. Effective communicators expect problems and misunderstandings.

2. Expect that you’ll need a lot of patience. Effective communication takes time. You and the other person may not connect or get on the same wavelength on the first or second (or third or even fourth) attempt. Impatience can doom the goal of genuine understanding. Being in a hurry works against the commitment to care that is essential to all effective communication. How can you genuinely care for someone while you’re tapping your feet and reaching for the door?

Instead, relax. Be careful. Recognize that effective communication deserves patience and a deliberate attempt to understand not only the words being said but also the emotions behind the words. Slow down until you get that. It will make the communication much easier and much more effective.

3. Expect a lot of trial and error. People have different ways of communicating. While all of us can master and use a powerful set of tools for effective communication, the way we use those tools varies from person to person. We get the best use out of them by adapting them for our own style and personal bent—and that requires trial and error.

You didn’t give up on driving a car just because you felt a little intimidated the first time you sat behind the wheel, did you? You didn’t abandon your pursuit of reading when you choked on a few words from The Cat in the Hat, did you? You didn’t swear off all future attempts at tying your shoes when you bungled your first attempts, did you? Of course not. It takes trial and error to get good at any skill—and that includes the skill of communicating effectively.

You may make mistakes, but in the end the practice will pay off.

Will you keep trying, even when effective communication gets frustrating?

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