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Why Communication Fails Before it Even Happens

As a leader, you’ve probably worked on improving your communication skills. You will have read and implemented different strategies to improve your communication and hopefully you will have seen success.

For many people, though, they will still have negative communication experiences. Why is that? Why do we still have negative communication experiences even when we supposedly know what we need to do to communicate effectively?

One of the main reasons is we often fail in our communication before we realise we’ve even started communicating. Remember that as I’ll come back to it, but before I do let’s consider the following communication model.

The Directness-Consideration Communication Matrix shows four styles of communication and the likely outcome of each. Using the matrix below, think about how much you communicate from each of the quadrants in the matrix and what effects that has on your performance and relationships. Do you use different styles at different times, and why do you think that is?


DirectnessConsideration Matrix

Each of us will have a default communication style based on our life experiences, some will be lucky and have a naturally more effective communication style than others, but the good news is you can change with commitment and practice. What you may have already realised though, is that your communication style changes without you realising, and it’s in this that we see the failure of communication before it’s even happened.

Studies in neuroscience and psychology are adding to our understanding of this every year. We now know that we make split-second decisions about others and how we feel about them, often at a unconscious level—you will possibly have heard about this unconscious bias. This phenomenon affects the way that we communicate and can decide which of the above quadrants you will communicate from. Decide that you don’t like someone? Then you are less likely to consider their needs. View someone as an outsider? Then you are less likely to seek a win-win situation. The frustrating part? Your unconscious views can be at odds with your conscious views, but both the conscious and unconscious affect your brain chemistry.

So, what to do?

The first thing is PAUSE.

This gives you the opportunity to reflect. What triggers your less-than-optimal communication? A bad history with a person and so you automatically pick a fight? Perhaps receiving calls at a particular time of day that you find interruptive? When you realise the trigger you have the power to change your response.

Think about how your communication would normally go and the negativity of it. Then, think about what the ideal communication would look like—one where you both win. Once you have that new image, replace the old with the new in your imagination. Play it through in your imagination a few times—the more you do it, the more familiar you will be with the scenario, and the easier it will be to stay in that win-win style.

To help you plan what you will do, consider using the new habit formula. It involves identifying the trigger, the old behaviour, and the new behaviour.

New Habit Formula March2017

So go ahead now and think of someone with whom you have difficulty communicating with. How can you use this to improve? Take out some paper now and write down some examples. Try it out a few times, and let me know how you go.

More in this category: « Are You Really Listening?

The Amazing Scavenger Hunt was a great way for our staff to interact with people from different teams, to work together, and to solve problems in a non-work situation. The event aligned with our goal of moving to a healthier workplace by being outdoors in a relaxed environment. The use of SMS technology was easy and appropriately paced, and the whole experience was very professionally run.

Claire Johnson - Executive Assistant/HR Manager Civil Contractors Federation WA