Communication – the leap of faith

When an impartial outsider looks more closely at interpersonal conflict, the interactions between the parties can be held up like a mirror to reflect upon the misunderstanding and miscommunication that’s at its heart. This gives us cause to think more deeply about the meaning and messages we convey to each other… and the more we do this, the more like a leap of faith it seems! In our workplaces communication is the single most powerful instrument of relationship building, team dynamics, creative serendipity and change – every person, every day, conversation by conversation we can communicate our message, we can choose to inspire others and progress our objectives. 

The complex process of communication starts with the communicator having an idea, then trying  to articulate the message in words. The experience for the receiver – becomes what we hear may not be what was said, and what we thought we heard or we anticipated would be said, and finally, what message we take away from the communication. It’s really no wonder that we miscommunicate and misunderstand each other!

Add to our choice of words is the paralinguistics of tone, pace, pitch, inflection and non-verbals such as eye contact, body language – both position and movements – all these aspects combine to shape the effectiveness of our communication and give us clues how the other person is understanding our message. Underpinning all this are our preconceptions, motivations and receptivity to the other person and their message. It’s not hard to see how the probability of clear communication and the effectiveness of messaging is easily reduced.

Organisation psychologist Chris Argyris’ work on the ladder of inference identified how we process information to make observations, select and interpret information to become our belief systems. We don’t often stop and go back to think about the assumptions we’ve made, we just assume them to be correct or ‘facts’.  This process is especially significant in our communication when our assumptions about the other person are negative – as this encourages us to select, see and hear only the information that reinforces our existing negative viewpoint and so our beliefs, based on untested assumptions become more entrenched and so the relationship deteriorates. 

This self-sustaining cycle can develop slowly and progressively erode our wellbeing and the quality of our relationships.  Breaking out of this cycle requires conscious action and support to unravel and expose our negative assumptions and our personal contribution to our strongly held beliefs. Conflict coaching creates the opportunity to learn how our communication is received by others, develop new skills to improve our communication competencies and learn how we can orientate ourselves positively to collaborate with others.  It’s worth taking the time to consider the valuable opportunities resulting from miscommunication and also how we can we can improve our approach to actively learn from others through effective communication.

Cooper DB