Effective Communication: Easier Said than Understood

Mar 21, 2017

Effective Communication

A lot of managers struggle with communication. Typically, we think communication is complete once we have conveyed the message. But when we follow up on a task that was completed incorrectly or not done at all, chances are the message was not properly understood. A message hasn't been communicated successfully unless the receiver comprehends it completely. The only way to know if the message has been properly received is by two-way communication or feedback.

Following are the communication barriers to two-way communication or feedback. It's important to understand these barriers so you can practice effective communication starting with the hiring process.

  • Ourselves: Focusing on ourselves, rather than on the receiver, can lead to confusion and conflict. We are often thinking about our response instead of focusing on what the other person is saying. Some other factors that cause this are defensiveness (we feel someone is attacking us), superiority (we feel we know more than the other), and ego (we feel we are the center of the activity).
  • Personal Biases: If we have a preconceived concept about the other person (e.g., they're a complainer, they're lazy etc.), we may dismiss the person. Our preconceived attitudes affect our ability to listen.
  • Thinking Conditions: When under stress, people don't see things the same way or see as clearly. What we see and believe at a given moment is influenced by our psychological frames of reference: beliefs, values, knowledge, experiences, and goals. The Four Thinking Conditions are:
    1. Relating—Low stress, highest clarity in thinking, and able to use the energy and consider perspectives of others.
    2. Reflecting—Low stress, high clarity in thinking, and ample time to draw upon our memories, feelings, and thoughts.
    3. Responding—Our energy is used for acting or deciding, but not thinking, so we don't consider different perspectives and we are subject to our own biases.
    4. Reacting—This is a high stress state, and the clarity in thinking is very low.

It is important to be aware of whether the receiver is able to hear and receive the message due to their current emotional state or stress (i.e. thinking condition). Many businesspeople still fail to recognize that it is an exercise in futility to communicate with someone when they are in Thinking Condition 4 (Reacting). Instead, we should wait to approach the person when they are in a more receptive thinking condition.

These barriers are filters that we use to decide what information is useful to us. No one can completely avoid these filters. One way to overcome these filters is through active listening and feedback.

Active Listening

Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing is involuntary, while listening involves the reception and interpretation of what is heard. It decodes the sound heard into meaning.

People generally speak at 100 to 175 words per minute but we can listen intelligently at 350 to 500 words per minute. This means most of the time only part of our brain is paying attention, making it easy for the mind to drift. This happens to all of us. The cure? Active listening. This involves listening with a purpose. It may be to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, share interests, see how the other person feels, even show support. This type of listening takes the same amount of or more energy than speaking by requiring the listener to hear various messages, understand the meaning and then verify the meaning by offering feedback. Some traits of an active listener include:

  • Not finishing the sentences of others.
  • Awareness of their biases. We all have them… we need to control them.
  • Planning responses after the other person has finished speaking, not during.
  • Providing feedback, but does not interrupt incessantly.
  • Taking brief notes. This forces one to concentrate on what is being said.


Feedback is restating the other person's message in your own words. It helps ensure that you understood the message correctly. How much better our daily communication would be if listeners attempted to understand before evaluating what someone is saying.

ZERORISK helps organizations build great cultures by identifying, developing, and retaining top talent. The ZERORISK Hiring System blends a revolutionary behavioral science with state-of-the-art technology to reduce unwanted turnover and improve employee performance. For more information contact us at (800) 827-5991.

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