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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Effective Communication: Barriers and Strategies

While there are many subtleties to communication between people, some basic skills can help you to be a more effective communicator. This document will explore Barriers to Listening, and Strategies for Effective Listening; Barriers to Accurate Perception, and Strategies for Accurate Perception; Barriers to Effective Verbal Communication, and Strategies for Effective Verbal Communication.

Barriers to Listening 
  • Focusing on a personal agenda. When we spend our listening time formulating our next response, we cannot be fully attentive to what the speaker is saying. 
  • Experiencing information overload. Too much stimulation or information can make it very difficult to listen with full attention. Try to focus on the relevant information, and the central points that are being conveyed. 
  • Criticizing the speaker. Do not be distracted by critical evaluations of the speaker. Focus on what they are saying - the message - rather than the messenger. 
  • Getting distracted by emotional noise. We react emotionally to certain words, concepts and ideas, and to a myriad of other cues from speakers (appearance, non-verbal cues). Make a conscious effort to quiet your own emotional reactions so that you can listen properly. 
  • Getting distracted by external “noise”. Audible noise may be extremely distracting. Some things can be minimized – e.g., turn down the ringer on your phone, and the email beep on the computer while meeting with someone. Other noises may be unavoidable – e.g., construction, other people. Also, there may be figurative “noise” from the external environment, such as distracting or inappropriate decor in a room, or environmental conditions such as the room being too hot or cold. 
  • Experiencing physical difficulty. Feeling physically unwell, or experiencing pain can make it very difficult to listen effectively. You may wish to communicate that this is not a good time, and reschedule the discussion. Otherwise, you may just need to concentrate even more on the task of listening.

Strategies for Effective Listening 
  • Stop. Focus on the other person, their thoughts and feelings. Consciously focus on quieting your own internal commentary, and step away from your own concerns to think about those of the speaker. Give your full attention to the speaker. 
  • Look. Pay attention to non-verbal messages, without letting yourself be distracted. Notice body language and non-verbal cues to allow for a richer understanding of the speaker’s point. However, avoid getting distracted from the verbal message. 
  • Listen. Listen for the essence of the speaker’s thoughts: details, major ideas and their meanings. Seek an overall understanding of what the speaker is trying to communicate, rather than reacting to the individual words or terms that they use to express themselves. 
  • Be empathetic. Imagine how you would feel in their circumstances. Be empathetic to the feelings of the speaker, while maintaining a calm centre within yourself. You need not be drawn into all of their problems or issues, as long as you acknowledge what they are experiencing. 
  • Ask questions. Use questions to clarify your understanding, as well as to demonstrate interest in what is being said.
Barriers to Accurate Perception 
  • Stereotyping and generalizing. Be careful not to hold on to preconceptions about people or things. We often have a tendency to see what we want to see, forming an impression from a small amount of information or one experience, and assuming that to be highly representative of the whole person or situation. 
  • Not investing time. Making assumptions and ignoring details or circumstances can lead to misconceptions. When we fail to look in-depth for causes or circumstances, we miss important details, and do not allow for the complexity of the situation. 
  • Having a distorted focus. Focusing on the negative aspects of a conversation or a situation is a habit common to many people. Even though we may recognize the positive things, we often give more weight to the negative, allowing one negative comment to overshadow numerous positive ones. 
  • Assuming similar interpretations. Not everyone will draw the same conclusions from a given situation or set of information. Everybody interprets things differently. Make sure to check for other people’s interpretations, and be explicit about your own. 
  • Experiencing incongruent cues. As speakers, and as listeners, we are constantly and simultaneously sending cues and receiving them from other people. Try to be consistent with your verbal cues and your body language. Do not say one thing and express something else through your body language. Be aware of how your non-verbal communication relates to your spoken words. If someone else seems to be sending a double message -- by saying one thing and expressing something else in their body language -- ask for clarification.
Strategies for Accurate Perception 
  • Analyze your own perceptions. Question your perceptions, and think about how they are formed. Check in with others around you regularly, and be aware of assumptions that you are making. Seek additional information and observations. You may just need to ask people if your perceptions are accurate. 

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