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3 Steps to Overcoming Communication Barriers

We often hear the phrase “Seek first to understand and then to be understood” or are told to actively listen. While these are important, often time it’s simply not tactical enough. Too often what we hear is skewed by the filters that we (and our audiences) apply.

So how do we ensure what we say is heard, and what is heard is what we mean? Using these three tips will help ensure your communication quality is at peak performance.

1. Speak the Same Language as Your Audience

Are you speaking the same language as your audience?

Many years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in Chile; skiing in the Andes is an amazing experience. One day we accompanied some immersion school students on the long chairlift ride to the top of the slopes. We each jumped on a chair with three rosy-cheeked and anxious young (8-10-year-old) skiers for the ride. Much to our surprise, they spoke fluent Spanish, German, Italian — but no English. This was going to be a long chairlift ride because I speak don’t speak any of these languages, I thought. Twenty minutes later, after talking at one another in sentences, phrases, single words — and lots of pointing and laughing — the ride ended and we all went our separate ways down the slope, neither knowing if anything we meant had been heard.

Each Technology and Business Has Their Own Language — Seek to Understand it

Do you ever feel this way when speaking with business partners or technical team members? It has become increasingly important to have the ability to translate business and technology jargon. It’s important that we use terms and language that the audience understands and use their preferred terms to make sure we are on the same page. For example, “Apex” is the top or highest part of something. “Apex” is also Salesforce’s object-oriented programming language. Use the same term with two audiences and they could hear something completely different.

2. Share the Right Information

Are you sharing the right information? Understand your audience and present to them at the level they require.

Every day we talk with business partners, colleagues, clients, leaders, and more. Each group (or job role) is looking for specific information regarding their involvement in a project. Some want the dirty details of each requirement or defect while others are interested in the progress made and budget consumed. Others want only to know of the business impact, risks, and decisions that are needed. It helps to understand why someone wants a specific set of information and what their motivations are.

Some years ago I was involved in a project that required we integrate SaaS, ERP, and Legacy systems. Our steering committee was a blend of IT and business leaders. The project had been in trouble and it was critical to keep the business engaged and ensure continued resource support from IT. Each stakeholder was looking for different levels of detail during the same meeting. In response, IT-level details that spoke to the summary and decision needs required by the business were collected prior to scheduled sessions, which kept everyone engaged and allowed the technical team to ask more in-depth questions as needed.

3. Timing is Everything

Learning relies heavily on context. Consider what is on your audience’s mind when you have a question or a need. Put yourself in their shoes and consider their current challenges or struggles. Set yourself up for approval by speaking privately with the stakeholders separately before presenting. Either ensure their support or seek to understand why they can’t do so and rethink the timing for your request.

For example, before walking into a meeting with the intent of asking for budget for a new project, take note of conversations around the team’s ability to manage their current workload. When a team is struggling to keep up, there’s a slim chance of gaining additional work approval.

Key Questions for Effective Communication

The words that we use in our discussions can make or break the effectiveness of our conversation. To ensure you are communicating to your full potential, make sure your team has a firm “yes” to these questions.

  1. Do we make a point clearly and succinctly, while providing added detail to those that we know are looking for it?
  2. Do we ensure that we use language familiar to those we are speaking with rather than pepper our conversations with acronyms and industry-specific terms? (It’s often necessary and appropriate to use these, but a paragraph of three-letter “words” will lose even the most attuned audience.)
  3. Is this the best time for the audience to receive this information? Listen to your audience and the conditions under which you are speaking.  If the time is wrong for the conversation – don’t have it.

Companies seeking to evolve and transform need to have tools for effective communication. Communication skills are valuable to teams, especially as they take on digital transformation. Read the guide below to learn about where digital transformation is heading in the future.

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Aileen McGrath

Strategic leader driving enterprise capabilities, efficiency and productivity through process and technologies innovation. A unique combination of business and technology experience with accomplishments in defining, designing, and delivering solutions to business challenges. Society for Information Management Houston Board member and RLF Graduate; and active in the non-profit/volunteerism community.

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