The meaning of a communication is in the way it is received. This is one of the Presuppositions of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and was a very difficult one for me to accept at first. However, as with many of the premises of NLP, they seem to grow on you and begin make more sense over time.
When we wish to convey a particular message and it is not interpreted in the way we wish, we often blame the recipient for not understanding. When you think about it… really think about it, such blame does not make much sense. In doing so we are setting an unrealistic expectation for the recipient. We are essentially expecting that the recipient will read our minds, and interpret our words in the same way we interpret them.
If the message we are trying to convey is an important one, we must accept responsibility for ensuring it is received and interpreted in the manner we intend. Doing so requires a great deal of care and skill.
Here are six ways we can ensure our message is understood:
1. Be aware of your objective. What are you trying to communicate? What is the purpose? What are the key points? How do you wish the recipient to interpret the communication? All of these are important for you to understand. After all, if you don’t know the answers to these questions, how can the recipient?
2. Avoid vague language. It is important, particularly when attempting to communicate a complex or difficult message, to use precise language. Choosing words that convey the precise meaning you are looking for may mean taking more time to think before you transmit, but can be well worth it. Using vague language leaves room for misinterpretations and misunderstandings, and may yield unexpected results.
3. Be honest about your own needs. When we are communicating with others we are typically seeking to have a need fulfilled. The need may be practical, such as getting a piece of information from someone, or it may be to have a deeper emotional need satisfied. If we are not clear or hones about our own needs when we are communicating we may convey unwanted or unhelpful messages such as confusion, frustration, impatience or even anger as our needs go unmet.
4. Communicate in the positive. Sometimes the best way to get somebody to do something is to tell them not to do it. When we communicate what we don’t want we may send unwanted subconscious cues to our recipients that attract their attention to the unwanted results instead of the result we actually want. Requests framed in the negative; e.g. “don’t do…” – may also set a negative tone to the conversation.
It is usually best to frame communications in the positive to clearly communicate the desired effect or need you want to convey. For instance, instead of saying “Don’t forget to pick up the laundry,” it is better to say, “Please remember to pick up the laundry.” The second phrase is positive, and avoids the potential conveyance of the subliminal command to actually forget the laundry.
5. Get feedback or confirmation of the message. Sometimes we are not certain how our message is being received. During these times, particularly if the message is critical or very important, it is advisable to get feedback or confirmation of the message. A simple question like, “Can you tell me what you think I meant by what I said?” can go a long way towards understanding how the recipient is interpreting your message. You may also ask something like, “How does what I said make you feel?” can give you insight into the impact your message is having on the recipient. If you want an opinion on your message, you may ask, “Can you tell me what you think about what I’ve said?”
All of these types of questions can give you insights and valuable information into how your message is being received and interpreted, as well as offer opportunities for clarification. However, the questions must be delivered appropriately to ensure they do not generate defensiveness. When asking for feedback or confirmation, you must do so with genuine intent and sincerity. Any hint of animosity or sarcasm will most likely result in a constructive response.
6. Request, don’t demand. Coercion may work in the short term, but it almost inevitably leads to rebellion in the long term. The best way to get your needs met is to request, not demand. Unfortunately, we sometimes make demands without intending to, or even being aware we are doing it.
The litmus test for whether we are making a demand or a request is to evaluate the consequences of the recipient not accepting it. If there are consequences for the request’s denial – emotional, physical, or otherwise , we are not making a request. We are making a demand.