Communication Is a Two-Way Street

by Gilda Bonanno LLC

Communication is always a two-way street. You, as the speaker, send a message to the listener. If the listener does not receive and understand your message, communication has not happened. And it's your job as the speaker to communicate your message in whatever form is necessary to ensure that it is heard and understood.

For example, a few weeks ago while I was facilitating a training program, one of the other instructors asked me what time I was going to conduct practice presentations with the class participants.

I replied, "10 to 12."

He said, "10 to 12. Really?"

I said, "Yes, 10 to 12. Isn't that what you expected and what we discussed?"

He replied, "No, that's not at all what I expected. How is that going to work with lunchtime and my session after lunch?"

I was puzzled. I thought we had agreed on this schedule already, but I could see that he was unpleasantly surprised.

So I repeated myself for the third time, now with a little edge in my voice, "10 to 12. And I don't think it will be a problem."

(Note to self: repeating my words exactly the same way over and over does not help the other person understand it better.)

He just stared. And finally, the light dawned on me: "I mean we'll practice between 10 o'clock and 12 o'clock noon… not at 10 minutes to 12, as in 11:50 am!"

"Oh," he said with a big sigh of relief. "I understand now. I thought you meant 10 minutes to 12, as in 11:50 am! Yes, that should give us enough time to practice before lunch and my session."

We had a good laugh about it. And I was reminded that successful communication, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Since my message wasn’t clear to him, it was unsuccessful communication on my part.

Sometimes, the message is perfectly clear to us and we're puzzled when others don't get it. In those cases, we have to resist the urge to blame the listeners. Instead, it's helpful to take a moment to think about the communication from their point of view and hear it through their ears – and say it a different way to avoid possible misinterpretation.

Gilda Bonanno's blog