Four Communication Myths

by Terry L. Sumerlin

One of my favorite writers, Sydney J. Harris, was a longtime columnist for the Chicago Daily News.  Known for his penetrating and thought-provoking comments on people and life, he made this often-quoted observation: “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Are we getting through? If not, why not?  I’m not smart enough to know all the reasons.  However, from personal experience as well as from platform experience in talking about communication skills, I’ve concluded that most communication fails for one major reason:  we have bought into certain myths regarding the process.  Let’s examine four of them.

Myth #1 — We communicate when we talk.  Though we generally communicate when we talk, we often make erroneous assumptions about talking.  First, we assume that talking is the only means of communication. It’s not.  We’ll cover that in Myth #2.  We also tend to make an erroneous assumption about the communication process.  We assume that all talking is communicating.  Consider this:  We communicate successfully when the other person receives the message we intended to convey.  Conversely, we communicate unsuccessfully (we fail to communicate) when they don’t receive that message, regardless of the message we intended.  At such times, we talk but we don’t communicate.

Unfortunately, many put all the emphasis on the message sent rather than on the all-important message received.  Again, “communication is getting through.”  

Myth #2 — We can choose to not communicate.  It is true that we can stop using words, if that is what one means by “not communicate.”  It is not true that we are able to not communicate.  Words are only one form of communication.  The most powerful form is body language.  In fact, body language provides an excellent clue as to why we often fail with words.  It’s because our words are saying one thing while our body language is saying something else.  For example, I may claim to be happy.  But if I forget to tell my face, the message received is, “Terry’s not happy.”  Similarly, a person may say, “I just don’t have anything to say.”  However, body language might say that there is more going on than is admitted.

In light of such, we must guard against sending messages of anger, boredom, insecurity, frustration or nervousness during those times when we’re unaware that we’re communicating anything at all.  We’re always communicating.

Myth #3 — People skills don’t matter in communication.  Think for a moment of a great communicator.  Who comes to mind?  It might someone you know personally, or maybe someone you don’t know.  It could be someone either living or deceased.  Perhaps it’s someone famous.  Whoever that person is, think about what makes him or her a great communicator.  Is it just the ability to put words together in speaking or writing?  That’s certainly a vital part of exceptional communication.  People skills are also vital!  If, as we’ve noted, communication is mostly about the message received and if no one wants to receive our message because of who we are, what difference does it make how well we deliver it?

Most great communicators are the type of people that others want to listen to.  They’ve earned that right through great people skills.

Myth #4 — One size fits all in communication.  We’re all familiar with the “fits all” concept in certain types of apparel.  It generally means that the items thus produced are cheaper to make and therefore cheaper to buy.  Communication is much different.  One size does not fit all.  Also, effective communication, unlike mass produced items, doesn’t come cheaply.  The price involves lots of personal effort, which also involves an individualized approach.

For instance, some people are introverts and some are extroverts.  Some are get-it-doners, some are get-it-righters. Some are leaders, some are followers.  We’re all different. We respond to different communication styles.  Great communicators know this, and tailor their approach.  Poor communicators just say whatever pops into their head, and let the other person figure it out – or not.  Afterwards the poor communicator is clueless in figuring out what went wrong.  “All I said was…”  The question is: what got through?

LEADERSHIP TIP:  Good communication = good relationships = good life. – Geoffrey Tumlin                  



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