If you can shout HELP – you’re on your way to becoming an effective communicator.
I want to share a tragic, personal experience which brings home to me, every time I think about it, the essence of communication and the process of communication.
We were on the final day of our honeymoon and went to make one final visit down to the beach on the North Cornwall coast near where we were staying. The sun was shining and as the tide was in waves were crashing against the shoreline rocks and everyone was off the beach and on top of the rocks above the waterline. It was a glorious day. As we lay in the sun the squeals of laughter around us changed in pitch and intensity. Suddenly, we were aware of screams and a commotion down on the waterline. As we got there we could see a fifteen to twenty-foot high tide swell against the rocks, and bobbing helplessly in it were some people screaming ‘Help’ and unable to get hold of the rocks to clamber out of danger. Very sadly, two people died in that incident. And the frustration for us was that there was nothing we could do to help. We walked slowly away from that beach with heavy hearts. Nearly a year after the incident, as a reporter, I actually met the family of one of the victims at a ceremony to award him a posthumous bravery award.
Since then I’ve thought many times about this incident and the lessons it provides. For me, communication is a two-way process involving a sender and receiver; someone who intentionally initiates the process and someone whose attention is caught and listens. I share John Adair’s observation (the world’s leading authority on leadership and leadership development) who says communication is about “the giving, receiving or sharing of ideas, knowledge and feelings (the contents of the mind, heart and spirit of people) by such means as speech, writing or signs”.
Throughout my career I’ve encouraged people to do two things to achieve quality communication:
- Take the initiative
- Manage the process
And the simple reason is that if you don’t, no one else will! Or you cannot guarantee that someone else will!
An instinctive process
The communication process, at its heart, is very simple and can be applied in every situation. It involves five stages:
- The aim of the communication
- The intended audience for the communication
- The appropriate message for the audience
- The ‘transmission mechanism’ for communicating that message
- The result of the communication
Bear with me while I get you to put yourself in the shoes of a drowning person. Instinctively, this person gets perfectly through each of the first four stages of the process within a second. They take the initiative to get someone to rescue them (the aim). The audience for their communication is anyone within earshot or hailing distance. The message is basically no more than a syllable ‘Help’ – I’m sure the first and last letters get lost. The way they transmit the message is to shout, and as loud as possible. It’s likely that the ‘tone’ of their shout helps most to grab the attention of any listener.
As we see from the incident, the outcome of your communication, as good as it was, may be beyond your control. However, with more time on your side you should be able to work on those earlier stages of the process to minimise the hurdles to good communication and achieve your desired effective communication.
What is your experience of communicating effectively and how have you overcome the obstacles in your way?
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