The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. –George Bernard Shaw

Are we speaking the same language?

That’s a good question. After all, some say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, so it may seem we speak different languages. Our individual brains often interpret the same words as having different meanings. Add body language and facial expressions, different cultures and other factors, and we can find ourselves lost in a muddle of confusion and emotion when trying to communicate with other people. During a conversation, most of us have had a knee-jerk reaction that was defensive, judgmental, and angry, starting a downward cycle that eventually tumbled into chaos between us and the other person.

Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., explores how conversational style (or communication style) makes or breaks relationships in her book, That’s Not What I Meant!

“Often it’s not what you say but how you say it. The part of the country you come from, your ethnic background, age, class, gender, and individual personality— these and many other influences result in different habits and assumptions about how to say what you mean. When conversational styles differ, you may draw erroneous conclusions about another person’s intentions and abilities— and they may walk away with similarly erroneous impressions of you.”

Behavior Styles

Dave Jensen talks about behavior and communication styles in his article, Behavior Style: Understanding Communication Styles Can Advance Your Relationships — And Your Career Prospects. First, he points out that is important to understand he is not talking about personality types, but communication types, so we can better understand how others perceive our words and deeds.

“Have you ever met someone whom you liked instantly? Or, just the opposite, a person who makes you want to run in the other direction? Either way, these feelings are a part of your behavioral style intuition. We all— unconsciously— seek out others who have a similar style to our own, and we can all tell— again unconsciously— who has such a style and who doesn’t. The secret to success, then, is to be flexible enough to understand and appreciate others’ styles. But before you can do this, you’ll have to determine what your own style is, and how that style might come across to others.”

Communicate Using the Seven Cs

The Seven Cs of Communication is a helpful article on Mind Tools. Even the message behind the title Mind Tools is great. It tells us that, given the proper tools, we can expand our skills, our minds, and our lives. Even though the references made in this article are geared toward the written word and career development, this “tool” can be incorporated into our everyday communication, and, even more importantly, into our relationships. After all, almost everything we do hinges upon communicating well. It can be disastrous when we don’t.

Here is a condensed version of the Seven Cs: clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous.

  1. Messages must always be clear. When writing or speaking to someone, be clear about your goal or message. What is your purpose in communicating with this person? If you’re not sure, then your audience won’t be sure either.
  2. When you’re concise in your communication, you stick to the point and keep it brief. Your audience doesn’t want to read six sentences when you could communicate your message in three.
  3. When your message is concrete, then your audience has a clear picture of what you’re telling them. There are details (but not too many!) and vivid facts, and there’s laser-like focus. Your message is solid.
  4. When your communication is correct, it fits your audience. And correct communication is also error-free communication. Have you checked your writing for grammatical errors? Remember, spell checkers won’t catch everything.
  5. When your communication is coherent, it’s logical. All points are connected and relevant to the main topic, and the tone and flow of the text is consistent.
  6. In a complete message, the audience has everything they need to be informed and, if applicable, take action.
  7. Courteous communication is friendly, open, and honest. There are no hidden insults or passive aggressive tones. You keep your reader’s viewpoint in mind, and you’re empathetic to their needs.

There are many great books and articles that you can use to arm yourself with knowledge and help you become a better communicator. Improving communication with others can help you improve your relationships, enhance your career, and even live a more fulfilled life.