The Great Communicator

For Seinfeld watchers, one of the classic episodes starts in Monk’s Restaurant. Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and his girlfriend of the month are at their regular table. Kramer gets up to make a phone call. Both Jerry and Elaine attempt to engage the woman in conversation to no avail. All she does is mumble every time they ask her a question. In desperation, the both nod their heads and verbally go along with whatever she is whispering-after all, they don’t want to be impolite to their pal’s latest squeeze.

The next morning, Jerry is slated to be on the Today show with Bryant Gumble interviewing him. When he arrives there and is escorted to the Green Room, he finds an ironing board and Kramer’s mumbling maven ironing a ridiculous looking shirt for Jerry to wear. Jerry is ticked and can’t believe that he’s been duped.

How did Jerry get in this pickle? Quite simple-miscommunications, they’re everywhere. Whenever I do a survey on workplace issues and concerns, communications heads the list. Communications-wrong, missed, nil or none-are too common complaints in today’s workplace. It doesn’t matter if they are scripted as in TV land or in real life. Miscommunications happen.

Communicating means to translate your message into a clear, concise statement or concept that the receiver understands. Sounds fairly simple, and at most time, harmless. Why then, do most people do such a miserable job at it?

Although the great majority of people in the United States speak English, they too often fail to understand that their jargon, mannerisms, jokes, stories-whatever ways and means they use to communicate, are ineffective. Why? Even though we speak English, it is no guarantee that we understand it they same way. My jargon for a certain occurrence can be totally different from yours. If I use my style, and you don’t fully understand what I really mean-I have failed in my attempt to communicate with you.

Those who lack communication skills are often labeled less confident, less attractive, and less qualified to do a job.

There are four steps to being an effective communicator. Those steps have parts for both the speaker and the receiver. Included are:

If you are the speaker-

  1. Speak loudly enough to enable the listener to hear whatever your message is.
  2. Speak clearly so that the listener understands what you mean.
  3. Use terms and words that will be of interest to the listener. When possible, use their jargon, their word phrases, and examples that can be easily identified and related to.
  4. Be specific, call for action. Don’t just fill the air with words, be prepared to ask for help, deliver a plan, and so on.

If you are the listener-

  1. Hearing the message generated by the speaker in an unobstructed manner. Outside noise and interference (phones ringing, using email, others interrupting, etc.) lead to hit and miss hearing. You lose.
  2. Understanding what the message is. If you are unclear or not sure exactly what is being said, it’s your responsibility to ask for clarity from the speaker. You lose again.
  3. Appreciate the fact that the speaker is attempting to convey his message in a manner that can be absorbed. This doesn’t mean it has to be agreed with, but merely means that you understand that the message is coming across in a communication style and language that you understand.
  4. You have the responsibility to participate in the request of the speaker and act on it. This means that you may not agree and may choose not to comply with the request.

The bottom line in communicating is knowing and understanding that most communications are non-verbal. Words are just a portion of the communication package-gestures, tones and body language are critical. As the speaker, the initiator of the communication process, it is your responsibility to make sure your listener understands your meaning and intent. As a listener, it is your responsibility to receive, comprehend and act on the message. 

Jerry learned his lesson in The Puffy Shirt episode. Whose fault was it? Primarily, his. He didn’t say, “Whoa, I can’t hear you-speak up.” Or, “I don’t understand what you are saying, please repeat it…or restate it.” Was he manipulated? Of course he was. But, he chose to go along with it and then is shocked to find out that he agreed to wear the absurd shirt on national TV.

Speaking, listening. Listening, speaking. It doesn’t sound too complicated, yet millions fail everyday. Don’t you.