Improving Comms [Merlino]

How we think communication works
How communication actually works

Alice Merlino’s 3 reasons you fail at communication in the workplace and how to improve is, in her own words: “A no-BS guide for people who suck at communicating with coworkers. Which means you. Also, me.” Do I need to say more? 

She identifies three key reasons why we all struggle with communication: 

  1. We think we know how communication works, and we’re wrong (first image above)
  2. When communication fails, we blame everyone but ourselves
  3. The way communication works is fairly-complex (second image above)

She illustrates the latter with a good example: 

Thought: I have a vague feeling of hunger and a desire for something tasty.

Encode: I write a message on Slack, “I’m so hungry.”

Transmit: I drop that message with a Cookie Monster gif into my team’s Slack channel.

Receive: People on my team get a message indicator on Slack.

Decode: My teammates read it and see my gif.

Interpret: One person thinks I want cookies. One person sees it’s 11:30am in San Francisco and assumes I’m ready for lunch. One person thinks I’m obsessed with Cookie Monster gifs because it’s the fourth one I’ve posted in three hours.

Understanding: One person thinks I have a sweet tooth. One person thinks I should probably eat a bigger breakfast. One person wonders where I find all of these amazing gifs.

In between our thoughts and the way they are eventually become someone else’s understanding, many things shape and morph the signal: 

The emotional state of the participants (e.g., angry, happy, sad).

The relationship between the participants (e.g., siblings, married couples, coworkers).

The expectations of the participants (e.g. you assume positive intent, they expect bad news).

The context of the participants (e.g. confused, busy, distracted, impatient, underprepared, biased).

The language abilities of the participants (e.g., you don’t know the language of the speaker).

The capabilities of your transmission medium (e.g., unreadable handwriting, bad wifi for video calls).

Literal noise (e.g, the cafe where you’re talking is crowded and loud).

And finally, she offers some strategies to improve our communication in the workplace (of varying quality, imho): 

  • Expect communication breakdowns and view them as opportunities to refine your message
  • Feel responsible and accountable for your communications being successful
  • Tailor your message and your medium to your audience
  • Tell a story
  • Ask for follow up
  • Ask for feedback
  • Get curious
  • Listen
  • Stop interrupting
  • Be tenacious
Improving Comms [Merlino]

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