Fixing miscommunication and missed communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” says George Bernard Shaw.

If you can count on two hands how many times you’ve discovered that your message was either misconstrued or not received at all, then you’re very lucky. Most of us can easily recall plenty of examples of miscommunication or flat-out lack of communication in the workplace.

Harvard researchers discovered through studying over 2,000 people that we are present — paying attention to what’s right here in front of us — just over half the time. For 47% of our day, our minds are wandering — daydreaming, worrying, remembering, anticipating, or doing anything but being here and now.

Opening our ears: Is my surgeon going to operate on the correct knee?

This absence of mind has serious implications for communication. If we’re elsewhere almost half the time, then we — along with our colleagues — are missing out on essential information in instructions, meetings, trainings, conference calls, and one-on-ones. This absence of mind explains at least some of the responses that seem to come from outer space; the responder heard only part of the original comment or none of it at all. These comments are maddening but inescapable if the individuals involved are not listening to others.

The consequences can be even more serious in some professions. Doctors in one Rhode Island hospital operated on the wrong side of patients’ brains three times! If they had been fully present when reviewing the notes, one can’t help but think these egregious mistakes could have been avoided.

Practicing mindfulness is a simple way to counter mind wandering. Practicing mindfulness cultivates one’s ability for paying attention on purpose, which strengthens one’s ability to listen. Since mindfulness practice has been linked to greater sustained attention, practicing mindfulness would improve communication. This is crucial, especially during meetings that run long and/or meetings with tedious content.

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Opening your mouth: Speak now or forever hold your peace

Regarding speaking, practicing mindfulness offers a remedy for both those who are too shy and those who are too bold. For those of us who struggle to say what we need to or to say anything at all, practicing mindfulness helps us overcome that fear.

For those of us who have a hard time limiting our commentary, regular practice helps us become more aware of and able to control our own inclination to ramble, dominate, or filibuster. Armed with self-knowledge, we can deliberately choose to apply Shakespeare’s advice: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

See what difference a week or two of mindfulness practice can make with your communication. See if your colleagues will join you; your organization could experience more productive meetings!

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