I had the most bizarre conversation with someone on the telephone this morning. I misunderstood one word at the beginning of the call, and it threw the discussion into two very different directions. The result? Embarrassment, apologies and laughter on both sides. Perhaps it helped that we won’t meet each other in person.
It got me thinking about how often an underlying coaching issue turns out to be due to miscommunication.
The Oxford Dictionary defines communication as ‘The imparting or exchanging of information’. Simple! So how does exchanging information so often end in complex, emotional and uncomfortable situations?
Communication skills develop from birth and are constantly affected by the many different and vastly varied elements of the environments we experience during our upbringing. Add to these skills a lifetime of personal experiences and lessons. The result is a very individual, complex ‘reality’ of assumptions, expectations and perceptions through which we filter the meaning of the words we use. Try asking someone to define one of their core values. Chances are, they have a different take on what the word means to them. At any point in any communication, words can be misunderstood or filtered differently, impacting the original message.
Multiply this misunderstanding by the number of people taking part in the communication, the differences in their upbringing and personal experiences, and you have some idea what a mine field communication is. Now consider that the words make up only seven per cent, the tip of the communication— the iceberg — and one has some idea of the complexity of communication. The other 93 per cent hiding below the waterline includes assumptions, expectations, intentions, body language, tone, values, feelings, past experiences, ideas, interpretations, beliefs, culture and gender.
So, what can you do?
Simply having an awareness of these difficulties helps one communicate more carefully and to listen for better understanding. One can develop one’s communication skills by practising my LORDS model to deliver one’s message as clearly as possible. This model allows one to check-in along the way and better understand. Others will hear, feel and appreciate this communication style.
• Listen actively
• Open questions
• Reflect and reframe
• Define intention, words and expectations
We have a tendency to decide what we are going to say next while someone else is talking. We quickly assume their meaning through our filters and wait for a pause to say our part. Listening actively means listening to understand what we do not already know while being conscious of our assumptions trying to fill in the unspoken gaps.
Asking questions to which we don’t know the response is an excellent way of supporting active listening. These open questions also make the people we are communicating with feel heard and understood. Ask questions to get as much previously unknown information as possible. For instance, rather than asking, ‘Is that okay with you?’ try ‘How do you feel about that?’
Good open questions often begin with ‘how…’ or ‘what…’. Try to avoid asking questions starting with ‘why…’ as this little word can give a well-intentioned question a personal and accusatory sting.
Reflect and reframe
When listening, be conscious that one seldom gets 100 per cent of that person’s ‘truth’ first time. Using open questions and active listening to take the person’s answer, reframe it and reflect it back to them helps clarify meaning. For instance, say, ‘What I’m understanding is…’ or ‘So, what I’m hearing is…’ to give the other person an opportunity to rephrase or clarify information. Using reframing and reflecting in communication picks up on gaps in information or different assumption filters. Notice how often one says something to someone, especially when one is in a hurry, assuming they have gone through thought processes similar to one’s own, beforehand. This is also very powerful in making the other parties feel heard and valued.
Define intentions, words and expectations
Consciously define three critical areas in conversations, especially in difficult circumstances:
1. Intention – what is the intent behind the words?
2. Words – do we have the same definition of the key words being used?
3. Expectations – what is being assumed or expected but not said?
Summarise the key points for yourself out loud when someone has finished explaining something. Ask others to summarise their understanding of what you said. Ask, ‘What else? ‘What’s missing?’ ‘What hasn’t been said yet?’ then offer a summary of what you think they said.
The two most important questions for clarification for yourself and others are, “So the Purpose here is…?” and “So the Question is…?” Getting and giving clarity on expectations, meaning, reason, obstacles and the core ‘why’ of what you are communicating keep everyone focused positively on the purpose and meaning.
Try it, and I guarantee that you will be surprised at how much potential miscommunication and misunderstanding you uncover!
Miscommunication can come from unconsciously filling in gaps in our understanding with assumptions based on our past experiences. This model uses five simple lenses to view communication from different focus points to offer new perspectives. Use active listening and open questions throughout the conversation to bring reflection, definition and summary into your interaction. Notice the difference in how you interact with each other and understand the meaning behind the words. Notice for changes in levels of trust and respect between you.
Feel free to share my LORDS model. Imagine what life would be like if we all got a little better at communicating with each other!
Be more socially confident through improving your communication gap and get your idea across clearly with ICF Credential Coach today!
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.
The author, Gillian Walter, who is English / Swiss and has lived on Lake Zürich with her Swiss husband and two children for almost 18 years, is a self-employed coach and coach supervisor, as well as an ICF Board Member responsible for memberships in Switzerland. As the communication link between the ICFS Board, the Chapter Leaders and our members, connections and conversations fascinate her. She enjoys encouraging and supporting the Chapter Leaders in building connections, growing their local coaching community and getting members involved in great volunteering opportunities, learning, collaborating, growing as professionals and most definitely for having fun together. She believes that if coaching professionals can come together to connect, share, learn and co-create in a fun environment, there’s very little that cannot be achieved. All they need to do is, communicate like LORDS!