A short journey in search of communication responsibilities

“I’ve told you 10 times, how come you don’t understand?”

You must have asked yourself the same question, and probably concluded that…“…it’s their fault if they don’t understand”. Communicating effectively is certainly an act of will which implies an exchange of information between two or more speakers, who all play a precise role at each stage. However, are we sure we can really “delegate” the success of the information exchange to those on the other side of the conversation? Let’s consider together the issue of communication responsibilities.

Changing our point of view

When I introduce the concept of communication to my class, I usually ask the participants for their opinion on who, between the person who “delivers” and the one who “receives” a message, is responsible for its effectiveness, i.e. for making sure that the recipient clearly undestands the meaning.

The participants usually split into two opposite parties: those who claim that it’s the sender’s responsibility and those who firmly argue “…yes but what can we do if the other person doesn’t listen and doesn’t want to understand?!?”.

Photo AdobeStock

When we are the senders and we want to deliver a message, making ourselves understood is a key part of our aim; therefore we are totally responsible for the outcome of our “communicative actions”!

If we think about it, this is a great advantage because it means that we can (and we must) use all our tools to make our message more effective. Therefore we can’t just think “…they don’t want to understand” or “…I told them, if they don’t listen then that’s their problem…” because this would contradict our main goal, i.e. delivering our message!

The measurement of feedback

Going back to our original question — if we have repeated the same thing in the same way for 10 times and our interlocutor still hasn’t understood — accepting our responsibility means admitting with humility and intelligence that our modes of communication haven’t worked and that we should express ourselves in a different way.

“If today is like yesterday, tomorrow will be like today. If you want tomorrow to be different, you must make today different.”
G.I. Gurdjieff

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

In order to change and improve our communication we have to tune into our interlocutors, put ourselves in their shoes, listen with their ears, observe with their eyes and try to understand how to make our message clearer. In other words we have to collect their feedbacks, if necessary stimulate them with questions, and then understand them and use them to change our communicative register.

Reformulate to understand each other

At this point we can act concretely on one or all of the channels we have:

  • VERBAL — Let’s make sure the words we are using are clear to our interlocutors, and that the language isn’t too technical or specific or in any case difficult to understand for “non-experts”. Let’s also ask ourserlves if we are making our contents interesting and captivating through the correct use of language.
  • VOCAL — Let’s pay attention to “how” we are communicating: if the volume of our voice is appropriate, if it’s too low and imperceptible or too high and aggressive; if we are engaging our interlocutors through variations in pitch and emphasis of the voice. Let’s ask ourselves if the rhythm of our conversation encourages their listening or if it’s only a monotonous chant.
  • VISUAL — Is our body language consistent with what we are saying? Sometimes our facial expressions, our posture and look, can undo our words. Let’s remember that our bodies can’t lie and that our interlocutors will trust what they see more than what they hear. Moreover let’s consider if it’s possible to encourage listening and understanding by using drawings, diagrams and images.

Photo AdobeStock

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Communication is a skill that requires training: in order to improve it, we need to step down from the throne of our fantastic kingdom where they all speak our language and have to understand us as loyal servants. Instead, let’s open ourselves to the others with humility, curiosity and desire to come together.
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