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Say what? Quietening communication frustration

Have you ever had that feeling of sheer incredulity when you ask someone to do something and they simply don't do it? Or they do it, just not in the way that you asked?

We've all been there.  

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, offers the following thought: “when things are going well look outside [to your people], when things are going badly, look in the mirror…” I now realise that when it has gone wrong there is a good reason. Just because I was making certain connections in my head between words and meanings it didn't necessarily follow that the person I was speaking to was making those very same connections. After all s/he was not a mind reader!

Even if I feel my communication was clear; it was her/his fault for misunderstanding me. Where does that view take us? Not to a constructive place that’s for sure and most probably down a further path of frustration and annoyance.

How about an alternative perspective? One of the tenets of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming, the study of human excellence) is that the meaning behind our communication is the response that we get. In other words we leak information… So, we have to think positive thoughts, demonstrate belief in the other person and ask them what they have understood from our request in order to be sure what we ask for has an chance of being interpreted as meant and actioned.

A more helpful way to look at the problem may be to consider the ways in which we may inadvertently cause confusion or uncertainty in the way we communicate. The most common ways in which we do this are through deletion, distortion and generalisation. Let's look at each of these in turn and consider ways in which we can minimise their occurrence.

  • Deletion i.e. missing bits of information

Consider, 'We need to change things around here'

Think about all the missing information in this statement. Who is 'we'? What specifically do we need to change? What is meant by 'around here'?


  • Distortion i.e. when information doesn't make semantic sense

Consider, 'Running workshops are a waste of time, people hate going.'

How does your view that people hate going mean workshops are a waste of time? Why exactly did they hate going? What is it about the workshops, exactly, that make them a waste of time?


  • Generalisation i.e. information that is generalised

Consider, 'We have to write this policy before we can get anyone's view on it.'

What would happen if you didn't? What lets you know that this is a 'have to' situation? Is there another way of looking at it?


Through developing an awareness of the language we use and considering how we may be deleting, distorting or generalising we can emerge as a stronger and more effective communicator.

Over the next week take a look at any written communication you send out – emails, letters, reports. Cast a gimlet eye over these and ask yourself whether you are deleting, distorting or generalising any information. Make any tweaks necessary and let me know how you get on!

Posted on Thu, October 23, 2014 in General Organisational Development
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