Mixed Messaging

Bob Schultek
Author of
The Gauntlet

In his book, ‘On Listening to Another,’ Douglas Steere shares this insight: “In every conversation between two people, there are always at least six persons present. What each

person said are two; what each person meant to say are two more; and, what each person understood the other to say are two more.”

All leaders want to communicate with clarity, avoiding mixed messages that invite these multiple personalities into their conversations and discussions. Clear communications are defined as the message received being the same as the message that was sent. Being engaged and present in both the speaking and listening sides of communications enables the productive dialogue that builds trust, team commitment, and shared accountability. But in our hectic, distracted, and noisy world, communicating with clarity can be a challenge.

To maximize the potential for a message to accurately convey what is intended, carve out time to carefully plan the message wording, and how it will be delivered, keeping both your message objective and the listener in mind. Consider practicing it aloud, assessing message clarity and directness, from the perspective of the listener, to ensure that your words will communicate only what you intend. And recall that a speaker’s attitude and behavior when delivering a message, speak louder than the words.

When it’s time to listen, resist the impulse of rehearsing a response while another person is speaking, planning to persuade instead of listening to learn; this minimizes the risk of construing something entirely different from the intended message. Focusing on the speaker’s message and delivery provides the opportunity to discover the speaker’s unspoken message, and the motivation that lies beneath the spoken words; these are typically exposed when the speaker’s attitude or body language is inconsistent with the spoken words. When a speaker’s emotion is unclear, asking how the person feels about the message, and why they feel it, can reveal a driving motivation. To ensure clarity and accuracy, once the message has been delivered, summarize for the sender what was heard.

How might you better ensure communications clarity?

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